Though she’s not nearly as prolific as her husband, Joe (who has directed 17 features over the past 10 years), Kris Swanberg has been working in indie film for just as long, mostly as an actor and screenwriter. (She also ran an artisanal ice-cream business for a while, which led some people to speculate that she was the inspiration for Amanda Seyfried’s character in While We’re Young, though Noah Baumbach has denied it.) Anyone anticipating the sort of nervy, uninhibited, aggressively uncommercial work that the Swanbergs used to produce, however, is likely to be disappointed by Kris’ Unexpected, which goes even further in the direction of mainstream accessibility than did Joe’s recent films Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas. Its innocuous take on pregnancy is its most substantial flaw, with most of the drama arising from such matters as a job offer that conflicts with a due date, or the lack of an undergraduate family housing program at a particular university. Not that these things don’t matter, but they don’t exactly make for riveting cinema.
Also, the title is a bit of a misnomer—or should be, given that Chicago high-school science teacher Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders), taking an online Planned Parenthood “Am I Pregnant?” quiz, answers “No” to the question “Do you use any kind of birth control (including condoms)?” When it’s confirmed that a baby is on the way, Sam and her live-in boyfriend, John (Anders Holm), quickly get married at city hall—to the consternation of Sam’s mother (Elizabeth McGovern, who genuinely looks as if she could have spawned Smulders)—and start discussing childcare options, all of which will make it impossible for Sam, whose school is about to close, to take a dream job at the Field Museum. Right around that time, as it happens, one of Sam’s students, Jasmine (Gail Bean), also discovers that she’s pregnant, creating an instant bond between the two of them. They start attending prenatal yoga classes together, and Sam helps Jasmine apply to the University Of Illinois, insisting that she not give up on (or even defer) college just because she’s decided that she wants to keep her baby.
A lot of what Unexpected does right involves the tiresome pitfalls it avoids. Samantha is a white teacher at what appears to be a mostly black school, but not only is there no overblown Dangerous Minds-style nonsense, there’s no tension of any kind whatsoever—her students love her, and they’re all bright and industrious. John proves unfailingly supportive, apart from a brief and contrived blowup when Sam doesn’t tell him she’s applied at the museum and he suddenly, inexplicably gets huffy about her desire to maintain her career after giving birth. (He soon apologizes and is instantly forgiven.) Sam and Jasmine eventually fight as well, but that, too, feels inorganic, as if Swanberg and co-writer Megan Mercier belatedly realized that the movie was too darn nice and scrambled to create some conflict. Mostly, Unexpected just wants to acknowledge the conflicted emotions that pregnant women sometimes feel and the sacrifices they sometimes make. It’s a worthy subject, but one perhaps better suited to the written word.