“Unexpected” aims to blaze a new trail of teacher-helps-student-out-of-the-classroom movies. In it, inner-city teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) gets unexpectedly pregnant.
It’s bad timing because her school’s closing at the end of the year, and she doesn’t have another gig lined up, though she frequently views an online posting for her dream job.
Her favorite distraction from impending uncertainty is helping students in their college search. This is kicked into high gear when Samantha finds out that her student Jasmine (Gail Bean) is pregnant.
“How did this happen,” Samantha says, arms crossed.
“You the science teacher,” Jasmine retorts, and it seems a fitting response to Samantha’s concern that teeters on condescension. “You’ve known me since freshmen year,” Jasmine says, “you know this isn’t something I planned on.”
When Jasmine decides she’s keeping the baby, teacher and student slowly join in a pregnant-lady intimacy of college apps, prenatal yoga and milk shakes. It’s a wonder if Samantha’s crossing a line at any point, but the two seem to relish in a mutual support. (And Jasmine continues to call Samantha “Miss Abbott,” which seems weird after a while.)
“Unexpected” is packaged like a comedy/drama, but it’s more intelligent than that, riding the line of a social awareness public service announcement.
In one scene, Samantha asks what Jasmine’s boyfriend thought when he found out about the baby. “Was he mad,” she asks. Jasmine: “Why would he be mad?” It’s a good question that Samantha can’t answer.
In another scene, Jasmine bags groceries for a woman, whose child is Baby Bjorn-ed to her chest. “You gotta get one of these carriers, it’s the best thing I got,” she says, and your heart aches cause you want Jasmine to have everything. In an earlier scene, Jasmine’s grandmother’s requesting more food stamps because Jasmine’s “eating for two.”
But here’s the magic of “Unexpected.” It rides this line of upset, prompting reflection.
In another scene, Samantha’s mother Carolyn (Elizabeth McGovern) rejects the baby idea.
“I don’t know how two people are going to take care of a baby, you don’t even own a washer, dryer,” she says. Then Sam’s boyfriend John (Anders Holm) weighs in: “Hey, we don’t need a washer and dryer, OK.” And he’s right.
In moments like these, “Unexpected” questions what makes a good parent, and it answers with a subtle and surprising challenge of stereotypes, while illuminating that teacher and student are interchangeable hats.
This prompt to internal reflection may be why “Unexpected” snagged a Sundance Film Festival nomination, and this is noteworthy. But, aside from what it makes a viewer think about, this film isn’t that well-executed.
Despite her authoritative voice and demeanor, Cobie Smulders as Samantha is lukewarm. She can cry well, and she’s luminous, of course, but it’s hard to buy her as a beloved, tough inner-city teacher. It doesn’t seem feasible when students excitedly ask stale Samantha to play checkers. That said, this may be intentional, as her character questions her maternal abilities. (It still didn’t quite fit for me.)
It was cool to see Anders Holm outside of the edgy TV comedy “Workaholics.” He plays the father of Samantha’s baby with tenderness, but the he and Smulders have limited dramatic chemistry on camera. Their best moments are comedic bits about Judge Judy and dinosaurs, which are tiny nuggets of delight.
Gail Bean as Jasmine is splendidly cast and she wears the heart of this film well, executing some of the best lines. She’s still a relatively new actress, and it shows, but she works here.
“Unexpected” is easy to watch, and it’s silently and surprisingly stirring, but it’s far from a must-see movie.
Starring: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean
Writers: Megan Mercier, Kris Swanberg
Director: Kris Swanberg
Rating: R for language
Available: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix Instant, VUDU