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Review: More talk than feel in ‘Unexpected’ pregnancies

Head-on, yet ever so gently, director Kris Swanberg addresses the conflicted drives toward motherhood and career in “Unexpected,” a modestly scaled feature whose plainspoken sincerity is a hindrance as well as a strength.

Weighing unresolvable dilemmas and sacrifices, the film centers on two ambitious young Chicago women, a high-school teacher and her student, as they face unplanned pregnancies. If their story feels more like a dramatized argument than an involving drama, that’s no fault of the lovely, unforced performances by Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”) and newcomer Gail Bean.

With humor and quiet forthrightness they play, respectively, science teacher Samantha and college-ready senior Jasmine, who forge a friendship over the months leading to their due dates. The timing could hardly be worse for them. The birth of Sam’s baby will put her out of contention for a dream job, while Jasmine, her heart set on attending a four-year school, finds that undergraduate housing options for a low-income parent are nonexistent.

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Sublimating her ambivalence by focusing on Jasmine, Sam is caught between her boyfriend (Anders Holm), who embraces impending fatherhood, and her mother (Elizabeth McGovern), who voices bitter, shockingly anachronistic disappointment over their insta-wedding. Smulders and McGovern spar terrifically over baby clothes in a terse scene that’s the most sharply written in Swanberg and Megan Mercier’s screenplay.

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Elsewhere, friction is explained rather than felt. If nothing else, the underdeveloped drama exposes the disconnect between family-values rhetoric and the sparsity of societal support for women raising children. Economic realities intrude on Sam’s relatively privileged perspective, laying bare hard truths that all the prenatal yoga classes in Chicago can’t remedy.

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“Unexpected”

MPAA rating: R for language

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset, West Hollywood; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena. Also on VOD.


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