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Even though it's as visually inventive as a straight-to-basic-cable drama, Unexpected is an honest, bittersweet, and levelheaded dramedy about preparing for an unplanned pregnancy in contemporary America. Not that very long ago, at least not as long as a lot of us open-minded progressives would have wished, the western idea of raising a family was not that far removed from the more traditional eastern way, assigned by patriarchal rules of society: After giving birth, the woman stays home while the man works, and if the woman had the audacity to even wish for a career beyond motherhood, all of that "foolishness" had to stop as soon as the baby arrived.
However, a lucky combination of changing social mores, as well as the rough economy that await the younger generation, opened up new options for raising children. Now the family dynamics are not necessarily gender-based, and who gets to stay home with the baby, if any parent can even afford to do that with a single-income household, depends entirely on whose career can make the most money to keep the family afloat. I can safely say that, as a stay at home dad, this approach works. Hey, at the very least, I managed to keep our 2-year-old alive so far, and I consider that to be quite an accomplishment.
But what happens when modern women are faced with the hard decision between raising a child and continuing a full-time career? Unexpected does a good job bringing that issue to the table in a narrative approach that might seem a bit too on the nose at times, but nevertheless manages to create a considerable amount of empathy and goodwill towards its characters.
Samantha (Cobie Smulders) is a high school science teacher who becomes unexpectedly pregnant by her boyfriend John (Anders Holm). Her school is about to be closed down, and she has her eye on an exciting job in a museum. Unfortunately, she will more than likely not be able to work at that job while taking care of her baby. This conflict creates a minor existential crisis for Samantha: Will raising the baby mean that she will have to lose the identity she created through her career?
Jasmine (Gail Bean), one of Samantha's brightest students, is also pregnant, and decides to keep the baby even though he's a teenager and the father is unwilling to give her and the baby the attention that she deserves. Just like Samantha, Jasmine wants to pursue a career by going to college first, but her upcoming birth stands in the way of her dreams. As Samantha helps Jasmine figure out a possible college option, a friendship develops between the teacher and student.
What I liked most about Unexpected is that it presents the baby vs. career conflict of a mother-to-be as just that: A conflict. It doesn't try to lecture the audience and sway them in any direction. It proposes that both full-time motherhood and seeking a successful career are equally admirable desires. The film just presents the hardship that emerges when expecting mothers understandably want both options.
As "expected" from a low-budget mumblecore indie, Unexpected has a very basic and flat look. The 1080p transfer stays loyal to the film's (lack) of visual style and presents clear and bright video that doesn't show any noise.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track could have been lossy 2.0 and I wouldn't have noticed. This is a very dialogue-heavy film, sometimes frustratingly so, and apart from the occasional use of the subtle score, the track stays on the front speakers. There's also a DTS-HD 2.0 option, and I'm sure you won't miss much if you listen to the film through stereo TV speakers.
We get nothing, just a couple of Previews for other releases.
Unexpected was directed by Kris Swanberg, wife of prolific mumblecore director Joe Swanberg. Even though Kris' style is evocative of some of mumblecore's annoying stylistic choices (Shaky camera, a slow pace, overtly heavy reliance on dialogue, bland editing that looks like the film was released right after first picture lock on Final Cut Pro), the natural performances by the two leads and a refreshingly simple and honest look at the subject matter makes it an appropriate choice for expecting families.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com
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