Films by Females: Unexpected (2015)

Director: Kris Swanberg
Writers: Kris Swanberg & Megan Mercier
Starring: Cobie Smulders & Gail Bean
The Story: Samantha (Smulders) teaches high-school in South Side Chicago and ends up forming an unlikely friendship when she and one of her students (Bean) both become unexpectedly pregnant.

It would be easy to regard Unexpected as simply one of those not-so-meaningful indie-dramas, but the film is actually quite unique and revolutionary in a quiet & subtle way. The world is not lacking of pregnancy-themed movies (Due Date, Juno, Away We Go, For Keeps?, Knocked Up). However, almost every single one of them that comes to my mind has been directed by a man. Now, that does not mean that these movies are bad (in fact Juno & Away We Go are among my all time favorite movies) but it does mean that all these pregnancy movies are inherently made with the male point of view. So what difference does it make when a film revolving around pregnancy is directed & written by women? Well, all the difference, if you ask me.

Unexpected follows two women facing the same challenging situation, except that the two women happen to have very different circumstances. Samantha is a 30-year old high-school science teacher about to lose her job (due to the closing of the school) yet optimistic in advancing her career. She is in a steady relationship and although the pregnancy is unplanned and scares her, her life is together enough for us to have faith in her as a future parent. Jasmine on the other hand is a high-school senior with good grades and a future in college waiting for her. She has had a rough childhood and has been raised by her grandmother in poverty. Her boyfriend is a good guy but young and irresponsible. It is easy to worry for her and the baby’s future.

Yet Unexpected does not rely on stereotypes, instead it shows us realistically the struggles these two women are facing. It is not easy to be 30 and at the beginning of your career and suddenly having to make decisions on whether you are going to stay at home or go to work and to face the sacrifices and effects of whatever decision you end up making. And it is definitely not easy to be a pregnant teenager facing the responsibilities of a child.

What I loved most about Unexpected was precisely the way it defied stereotypes, especially with Jasmine’s character. She could have easily been made into the ‘young black girl in trouble’ trope, but instead she is insightful, mature and hopeful. Her pregnancy is never treated as the end of her life, although her future may be changing the movie paints a hopeful picture for her and her child. I especially loved a scene in which Samantha attends Jasmine’s baby shower and realizes how immensely supported Jasmine is by her family and community. Often in movies & TV people living in poverty are presented as almost less than human, their lives only defined by their struggles. Unexpected presents these lives with more complexity and shows people in different social classes with same capabilities to achieve hope, love and happiness.

Another thing that I really loved was the scene in which Samantha gives birth to her baby. It is precisely the birth scenes in pregnancy movies that tend to lack the female perspective. Unexpected is a rare movie with a birthing scene made from the perspective of the mother, and that scene is amazingly beautiful and utterly realistic (at least for a woman who has never given birth but heard a lot of birthing stories).

The third thing that I find amazing in Unexpected is the friendship between Samantha and Jasmine. It is real and intimate and presented in a way that only a woman would be able to do. There is subtlety in female friendships that can be hard to imitate if you have never had one and I’m sorry, but as a man one can never experience what a friendship between to women can be like.

Unexpected is a very calm film with not much drama or fast driven plot, but what makes it uniquely amazing is the way it presents its characters, the issues they are facing and the friendship they have. It might not seem memorable but I swear to you, if you pay close attention, it’s quite wonderful.

-Satu

Films by Females is a series in which I review movies made by women focusing on the issues of womanhood & feminism. This series was inspired by Film Fatales & their list of must see movies by women published by Bitch Media.

Advertisements