Sundance 2015 Review: ‘Unexpected’ is Unexpectedly Mature

Unexpected is a funny and emotional story of maturity and support. It shows you can find humor in supportive relationships and maturity in the handling of complications, even when they fall specifically at the act three mark.

Sam (Cobie Smulders) is a teacher at a school being closed, so right when she has to find a new job she finds out she’s pregnant with her boyfriend John (Anders Holm). Meanwhile, she tries to help one of her best students, Jasmine (Gail Bean), apply to college when Gail herself is also unexpectedly pregnant. 

Sam’s story is great and her relationship with John is too, but the real heart of the story is Sam and Jasmine. The responsibility of having a baby brings out Jasmine’s maturity, but also serves as a poignant reminder that not everybody has all the options Sam has. Teacher/student relationships tend to be prime material for dramatic connections, Sam and Gail feel elevated to equals. 

John and Sam’s relationship is incredibly supportive and derives humor from their chemistry together rather than “hilarious” conflict. There’s all the mundane humor to be mined from the real situation of growing a life inside you and planning for the impending changes. You don’t need any more schtick than that. 

They have good mature talks about the tough decisions they have to make, That doesn’t mean it’s not a fight, but it’s a fight where each position is clearly articulated and valid. That makes the resolution feel better because they’re both dealing with their own conflicts as much as each other’s.  So many of the feelings they’re anticipating, you don’t even know until you’re in that situation with your own baby. 

Let’s also applaud Unexpected for a non-gratuitous birth scene. It’s not a whitewashing or anything, but that old cliché of the screaming birth scene that’s so hilarious because it goes on so long is kind of an insult to mothers. You can acknowledge the natural pain but celebrate her strength and willingness to go through it to bring a child into the world. Or, you know, just not be like all those other clichéd movies. 

Sam’s relationship with her own mother (Elizabeth McGovern) is handled with maturity too. There is some comedy in the disapproving high maintenance mother but she’s allowed to grow and show more depth, as most people do after they’ve blurted out their initial reaction to shocking news.

Unexpected satisfies on both an emotional and comedic level. It demonstrates a special touch by writer/director Kris Swanberg, a breakthrough performance for Bean and perhaps Smolders throwing down the gauntlet for leading roles.

 


Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.

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