By: Addison Wylie

Cobie Smulders continues to collect indie cred with Kris Swanberg’s Unexpected, where the How I Met Your Mother actress plays high school teacher Samantha who learns of her surprise pregnancy during her final year at an inner-city school ceasing closure.  At the same time, Samantha discovers one of her students is also with child (Jasmine played by firecracker Gail Bean).

Unexpected doesn’t issue a new perspective on poverty-stricken pregnancies, or a new display of an urban school with restless teenagers.  For the latter, Swanberg’s academic setting is painted with light watercolours when compared to other films such as Freedom Writers or better yet Half Nelson.

Where Unexpected  really comes through is in its depiction of others helping others without feeling obligated.  Samantha and Jasmine may be in a similar physical and emotional state, but they’re compelled to each other out of a natural reaction to share and empathize.  It’s this womanly bond Swanberg, Smulders, and Bean portray so well that makes Unexpected a poignant winner.

The two actresses are able to hold their own presence when they need to carry a scene and stand against other expectations, but we feel Swanberg and Megan Mercier’s script come alive when they ricochet off each other outside of class.  It’s also a big help that they’re surrounded by understated grounded performances provided by Workaholics’ Anders Holm (Samantha’s husband, John), Downtown Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern (Samantha’s critical mother), and Aaron J. Nelson (Jasmine’s suitor who doesn’t realize the gravity of being a father).

With Samantha dealing with sniping criticisms from her Mom and John’s seeping expectations of how a woman should represent herself after a birth, Unexpected looks at different outlooks from Samantha’s point-of-view.  Those with the preferences swear they are not being overbearing, but they are inadvertently setting the rules.  Her picky mother is a little more vocal than John (Swanberg could’ve afforded to demonstrate more subtlety in an initial blowup), but the exchange is effective nonetheless.

From far away, the film resembles an ordinary indie.  With a closer look, movie goers will see how Kris Swanberg’s Unexpected shines.

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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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