Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Unexpected": Too Indie For Its Own Good

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

As much as the term “indie” gets used and abused by marketing advertisers and hipsters, I do think there is still such a thing as being “too indie.”  Independent cinema at its inception garnered a reputation for shirking the studio trends of the time, offering experimental pieces and foregoing mainstays of traditional blockbusters in order to offer smaller, more intimate experiences.  However, there are times when the experiment fails, or the smaller scale only serves to disservice the product, and the latter is precisely what happened with Unexpected.

Samantha is a thirty-year-old teacher at a closing high school who discovers that she is unexpectedly pregnant, so decides to marry her boyfriend and make a life with him.  However, as she comes to terms with her job ending, she doesn’t know if she wants to give up the prospect of working in order to be a mom full time.  Around this same time, she realizes that one of her students, Jasmine, is also pregnant, and the two form a bond as Samantha tries to convince Jasmine that she doesn’t need to give up her dreams of college in order to raise her baby.

If this film does one thing exceedingly well, it is in showing how wealth disparity can have a tremendous effect on how one views their unexpected pregnancy.  For Samantha, who is middle class and college educated, the decision to keep her baby comes at the expense of her potential to gain employment that would commence right around her due date, and while that is an unfortunate circumstance, she still has the potential to make a career for herself eventually and has the support of a loving partner.  Jasmine, on the other hand, is a low-income teenager whose boyfriend’s immaturity makes him a less-than-ideal father figure and whose education may potentially be put on hold indefinitely due to her inability to get enough financial aid to support both herself and her baby.  The difference in their circumstances is nicely highlighted in a few key scenes, and it hits home the point well.

However, there isn’t much to the film other than that one point, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that this is the central theme.  This is partially because the focus seems to be on Samantha as a protagonist, and Jasmine’s role seems delegated to that of a foiled subplot.  However, the other reason this film feels so fluffy is because there isn’t a whole lot of conflict in the script.  Sure, characters fight, but their arguments are resolved almost instantaneously, and Samantha’s character arc of accepting her impending motherhood alternates between feeling subsumed and irrelevant compared to Jasmine’s greater problems.  This feels like a film that wants to say something about the difficulties of unexpected pregnancy, but it never quite comes up with a thesis statement.

This is why the film feels “too indie.”  Without some sort of guiding producer influence, this project ended up feeling like a half-baked idea that made its way to shooting way too early.  The characters are little more than archetypes of their socioeconomic class, but the film doesn’t hammer home its moral hard enough to justify their shallow existence.  Unexpected could have been a good film if it had had any more direction than what was presented.  But this is unacceptable.

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