I just caught Unexpected on Netflix. This film is about a teacher obsessed with her work who can’t deal with the fact that she is pregnant.
The film stars Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, and Gail Bean. Smulders is Samantha (Sam) Abbott, a white woman teaching science in a majority black high school. She’s a great success at her work. The students like her, the faculty like her, she’s earned great recommendations.
Anders Holm is Sam’s boyfriend. When they learn she is pregnant they marry quickly.
Gail Bean plays high school senior Jasmine. Jasmine is a top student. Sam is determined to get her into a good college. But Jasmine is pregnant, too.
Sam is a complicated woman. She doesn’t want to be pregnant. She doesn’t want to be a wife and mother. She wants to have an important career. She’s in denial in many ways through most of her pregnancy. Instead of dealing with the practicalities of her own situation, she applies for a new job and devotes herself to making sure Jasmine has a scholarship to a top university. John tries every way he can to get Sam to think about what is going to happen after the baby is born, but she resists.
After John and Sam marry in a quick courthouse ceremony, they go to have dinner with Sam’s mother (Elizabeth McGovern). We see where the push to be a career woman came from in this scene. Much later in the story, Sam talks to her mother again. Her mother tells her that whether she works and leaves the baby or stays home and doesn’t work for a year or two, she is going to feel torn and guilty about the choice.
Jasmine, on the other hand, is more grounded in reality. You can’t live in Jasmine’s world and not be. She trusts Sam enough to believe that perhaps she can pull off the trick of leaving her home and family to go to college hundreds of miles away as a single parent. When the two go to the university together, Jasmine quickly faces the fact that she cannot do it no matter how much Sam wants her to.
The most interesting scene in the film for me was Jasmine’s baby shower. Sam’s baby was born already. Although she seemed delighted by the child, she told Jasmine rather lamely, “I really like her.” At the shower, Jasmine was surrounded by family and friends. As opposed to Sam who has only John and a shaky relationship with her mother, Jasmine’s wealth of love and support is a stark contrast. Jasmine will stay at home, take care of her baby in a supportive environment, continue her work as a checker in a grocery store, and attend the city college that is close to home. This works for Jasmine better than the dreams Sam pushed on her.
I was concerned that this film might be one of those white savior films. The film was the opposite of a film where a white savior comes into the life of the poor oppressed black child and saves her. Here the black young woman had her own autonomy and knew for herself what was best for her – far better than the out-of-touch unconsciously privileged white woman.
Unexpected also carried an undercurrent of subtext regarding the effects of the feminist movement on black women vs. white women. In some ways the effects are similar, in some ways vastly different.
The film was written by Megan Mercier and Kris Swanberg. Kris Swanberg directed.
The trailer was in an earlier post, if you’d like to take a look.