Unexpected is a movie made by women about women for women. Actually, I should restate that. Unexpected is a movie made by a white woman about a white woman for white women. Right now, movies have a problem with multi-culturalism. There is a glut of movies in the past decade that all focus on a main character that deny all other characters the right to live outside of that main character’s story. If we as a society feel its right to call out Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl for scuttling off all its side characters to focus on the white male character, and Dope for doing the same to its black male character, then I am pretty much OK with calling out Unexpected for being about a white chick trying to save a black girl and scuttling that girl’s life to the side of the movie to the point where she’s a prop for that white chick.
Kris Swanberg’s third feature stars Cobie Smulders as Samantha Abbott, a white teacher in a very clean high school in the middle of south Chicago. Samantha and her long-term live-in boyfriend, who live in some Chicago suburban-esque neighborhood, suddenly find themselves pregnant and Samantha has to find her way through this unexpected pregnancy. Instead of dealing with it like a normal human being, she finds help and companionship through Jasmine, a black girl from the ghetto who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant.
Samantha uses Jasmine as her emotional crutch, even though she and the movie barely recognize Jasmine as a person. She takes Jasmine to a bunch of upper-middle-class pregnancy things, e.g. prenatal yoga, and pushing her into a 4 year university without ever listening to Jasmine’s actual desires and needs. Samantha is a rich white woman pushing her rich white woman ways onto a poor black student, regardless of cultural differences. By the time Unexpected lumbers to its predictable conclusion, any charaterization of Jasmine’s life outside Samantha is too little too late. Besides, Samantha’s biggest punishment for her transgressions is a stern talking to and a cold shoulder (Oh no!!!).
That’s the biggest problem with Unexpected: there are no real stakes. If Samantha fails at being a good surrogate mother to Jasmine (who also has a real mother who seems to pay attention to her), nobody suffers. If Jasmine fails to get into her first choice university, there’s a second choice waiting to back her up. This lack of stakes would make a slightly delightful film if it weren’t so racist. Occasionally, characters will throw off asides about students dropping out or dying, but they provide about as much weight to the story as the branding of the yoga studio.
Much like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, everybody except the main character is othered and reduced to mere plot points. Unlike Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, Unexpected doesn’t even hint that there could be a problem with this world view. Unexpected seems to think it’s being progressive by subverting the Dangerous Minds-style “middle-class white woman saves an inner city student” plot. However, its idea of subversion is to ignore the differences between middle-class people and lower-class people. Instead of subverting the familiar formula, Swanberg made it exponentially worse. Unexpected is an unabashedly self-centered egotistical solipsistic work that calls attention to itself as a progressive work about class, women and minorities, but is actually concerned with the barely-existent plight of gainfully-employed middle-class white people.