REVIEW: Unexpected

24 07 2015

UnexpectedIn Kris Swanberg’s “Unexpected,” pregnancy functions as something more than just a nine month-long sentence that brings agony and joy in unequal measure.  Here, it serves as a springboard into the future that simultaneously forces a reckoning with the present.

As the film’s title might imply, Cobie Smulder’s protagonist Samantha Abbott finds herself in the family way at a very inopportune moment.  The school where she currently teaches must close its doors due to budget cuts, and she still feels a strong enough urge to impact the lives of students that she cannot simply hang up the cleats to become a stay-at-home mom.

Swanberg’s script, co-written with Megan Mercier, gives her little to do other than endure pregnancy with one of her students, the promisingly bright Jasmine (Gail Bean).  Whether they are working through Jasmine’s college application, preparing with a session of prenatal yoga, or just plain gorging on a milkshake, “Unexpected” always delights even when largely void of dramatic tension.

The film does deliver (excuse the pun) on a subtle interrogation of the “great white savior”/”nice white lady” trope that often makes its way to the forefront in films involving two characters from different backgrounds.  Swanberg and Mercier put Samantha and Jasmine in the same situation, which itself levels the playing field between them somewhat.  But in spite of her best intentions, Samantha discovers that even – and perhaps especially – when it comes to maternity clothes, one size does not fit all.  Vast socioeconomic divides still exist between them, and “Unexpected” probes these macro-level prejudices and disparities brilliantly through the use of micro-aggressions.

This commentary makes for a nice addition to the film, but what really makes the price of admission worth it is Cobie Smulders.  For heaven’s sake, can she just tear up her contract with Marvel and keep doing small, heartfelt indies like this (and “Results,” for that matter)?  Smulders possesses an uncanny ability to convey a devastating sense of fragility in her characters, a particularly remarkable feat considering that she also erects an iron-clad facade of normalcy for them to hide behind.

She turns in touching work in “Unexpected,” so natural-feeling that it cannot help but evoke a suspicion that Smulders has yet to reach the apex of her dramatic talents.  What a sight that will be.  B+3stars

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