Monday, September 28, 2015

Kris Swanberg's UNEXPECTED explores how women (and men) experience pregnancy today

One of the strengths of UNEXPECTED is that we haven't seen so much of the ways in which women experience the "idea" of pregnancy in our current times: what it might mean to their ability to continue working and still take care of their child, how it might begin to reflect a growing schism between their men and themselves (the film doesn't address lesbian or gay parenthood, though the concerns may be quite similar). Co-writer (with Megan Mercier) and director of the film, Kris Swanberg, has quite rightly, I think, swung her pendulum toward the distaff side of things, so we learn a lot about the fears and desires of a 30-something young woman who is about to lose her teaching job because her school is closing due to cuts in the education budget.

Simultaneous to this, our co-heroine, Samantha (Cobie Smulders, above, left), also discovers that she is pregnant. Another simultaneity occurs when Sam's best student, a girl she is grooming for college, discovers that she, too, is unexpectedly pregnant. The two, somewhat bonded already, now go for it big-time. Ms Swanberg, pictured at right, has a somewhat famous and quite adorable new child of her own (he's appeared in a couple of smart and funny films already), so she knows from where she comes. She also wants to open her movie up to include new mothers of other races and classes: hence the inclusion of the student, Jasmine (played quite well by Gail Bean, shown above, right, and below) into the mix.

The filmmaker has also given us two quite different men: Sam's couldn't-be-sweeter-and-more-caring white-guy boyfriend, John (a spot-on Anders Holm, below, right, and Jasmine's more typical, not-yet-grown-up-and-doesn't-want-to, Travis, played by the also spot-on Aaron J. Nelson.

If these two men, together with the situation presented us, seem to fall into that typical "whites have it easier than blacks" scenario, well, why not? This is true, with rare exceptions, throughout our country. The point of Swanberg's movie -- in addition to its take on women and pregnancy -- is how little Sam, for all the help she tries to be and offer, really understands or appreciates Jasmine's situation and dilemma.

While this rings true enough, situation-wise, how it is expressed in some of the dialog and especially how the issue is resolved do not ring true. All this unfortunately makes the move seem skin deep when it ought to be more probing. And the inclusion of a short scene, above, of a demonstration of protesting school-teachers, just adds to this sense of surface.

All this is a shame because the movie has quite a bit going for it (including Elizabeth McGovern's interesting turn as Samantha's alternately supporting and annoying mother). So tamp down those expectations, enjoy the better parts and roll your eyes a bit at some of the rest, and you'll have a pretty good -- if pretty much expected -- time.

Unexpected, from Alchemy and running just 87 minutes, hits the streets tomorrow, Tuesday, September 29, on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and early EST -- for purchase and/or rental.

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