Unexpected is precisely the kind of film one well-acquainted with the mumblecore subgenre in film would expect Kris Swanberg, the wife of director/writer/producer/actor/do-it-all-man Joe Swanberg would make, and that's by no means a bad thing. Her husband has made a career making no-budget films revolving around millennials grappling with happiness, personal enrichment, existential dread, technology, sexual angst, sexual tension, and relationships, and here, in her third feature, following two decidedly smaller efforts, Unexpected tackles a story of two people going through the same tribulation/blessing and finding themselves seeing different experiences.
We focus on Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders), a young teacher at an underfunded public school in Chicago that will see its doors close following this school year. Samantha, being one of the only white teachers in the largely urban school, does something few of her peers seem to do, which is encourage her students to apply for college, even going as far as to sit with them individually while they apply and work out possible financial aid opportunities. One day, however, Samantha discovers she is pregnant with her boyfriend John (Anders Holm). Samantha doesn't know how this will effect her future, especially when she has John declaring she can take a year or two off of work to raise the kid while he'll float the family with his income.
However, this idea doesn't sit well with Samantha largely because she doesn't want to be a mother and have everything else come second. Yet, despite this, Samantha impulsively marries John, holding a brief service with no family, much to the dismay of her mother (Elizabeth McGovern), who feels she's going about this pregnancy in a backhanded way. Even though Samantha and John seem to be at opposing ends throughout this whole process, Samantha finds comfortable empathy and friendship in Jasmine (Gail Bean), one of her students, a high school senior, who is also pregnant by her current boyfriend. Jasmine lives with her grandmother, and while she does want to go to college, the lofty pricetag that comes with and the potential of not being there for her child are budding factors that always cross her mind.
Unexpected deals with how the same sort of circumstance can provide for different experiences depending on a variety of factors. Both Jasmine and Samantha aren't wholly far in age (she's about eighteen, she's maybe in her early-thirties), but their racial divide is clearly present, especially when considering colleges to apply to and having to work around Jasmine's tumultuous homelife in order to make college a reality. If nothing else, Swanberg effectively shows us the idea that every kid should go to college isn't a bad idea, in theory, but in practice, without taking into account different financial and stability situations, is a very messy ordeal.
Swanberg keeps the pregnancy jokes down to a minimum, pleasantly so; only one scene involving Cheetos and pickle-juice will evoke some form of nauseousness, while the remainder of the film is helmed by strong conversations between Samantha and Jasmine, or Samantha and John, as we see one relationship brew and a marriage that should've never been slowly divulge into arguments. This is also, somewhat unsurprisingly so, a story of trying to find your personal identity amidst a change that will potentially make your life come second to the life of a child. The recurring theme in many of these newer independent films is trying to find some comfort in one's self, and Unexpected shows that by having Samantha's boyfriend trying to dictate what she will do and how she will live her life following a baby. She doesn't want the next ten years already laid out before her and she definitely doesn't want them meticulously mapped out by someone who isn't her.
At Unexpected's core are its performances and dialog, and Smulders proves that's she's more than a background character in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in addition to Bean, who has serious acting talent, with an ability to be emotional without being too obvious in her feelings. This is a film that really shows how something widely regarded as a blessing can be a setback or a difficult thing to manage, in addition to being a circumstance that prompts many different experiences depending on you, your social class, and your race. It's a uniformly solid film about very few people have probably seen taken with such a reserved tenderness despite being such a hot topic of discussion.
Starring: Cobie Smulders, Gail Bean, Anders Holm, and Elizabeth McGovern. Directed by: Kris Swanberg.