Unexpected, a disappointing what-to-expect-when-you’re-expecting comedy, tackles thorny issues of class and racial inequality with undue mildness. Co-writer/director Kris Swanberg tries to avoid using stereotypes to define the relationship between expecting high school teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and college-bound student Jasmine (Gail Bean). She’s most interested in representing a benign but tense bond between a white teacher and a black student, but Swanberg never offers penetrating insights about her two lead protagonists’ friendship and shared anxieties.
Based on Samantha’s clueless, patronizing behavior, Jasmine knows more about Samantha’s world than Samantha does about hers. That ignorance is Unexpected‘s main thematic concern, as we see in the scene where Samantha’s mom insensitively offers to give “the poor girl” Jasmine some baby clothes that Samantha rejects. That casually dismissive line is dismally ironic since Swanberg casually mocks Jasmine’s poverty by fixating on the off-off-brand label of Shasta Cola that Jasmine’s relatives drink (twice!) at her baby shower.
Swanberg’s regrettable downplaying of Samantha’s obliviousness is most glaring in the scene where Jasmine creeps Samantha out by pouring a pouch of sugary Capri Sun fruit juice into a bag of Cheetos. Samantha almost retches when she smells Jasmine’s unholy concoction, and demands that Jasmine immediately throw her junk food out of the car. Jasmine characteristically laughs at Samantha’s freak-out, but Samantha never apologizes. The scene’s implicitly haughty message is clear: White people disapprove of black people’s tastes, but that’s OK because they mean well. Unexpected isn’t about, but rather a product of, class-based condescension in America.
Directed by Kris Swanberg
Opens July 24, Village East Cinema
Available on demand
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 21, 2015