Swanberg’s previous two films were actually improvised. Writing a film was new direction for her but she chose to do that for Unexpected because while improvise can sometimes be easier and quicker, there are some drawbacks. “I got stressed out working that way,” explains Swanberg, “mostly because I was afraid that I wasn’t getting my point across.” She would realize after everything was shot that certain ideas weren’t working and would have to go back and fix them. With writing a script, “It was just really nice in this way to have a blueprint and to flesh it out and to bounce it off with other people before we went in and did it,” says Swanberg.
Unexpected tells the story of Samantha, a high school teacher in Chicago, she has a live-in boyfriend, John (played by Anders Holm), normal average life, and she unexpectedly gets pregnant. There’s no crazy fireworks or snarky dialogue, it’s just true and what really happens. They end up having essentially a shotgun wedding at the courthouse and go through with the pregnancy, as a normal 30-something, semi-successful couple that love each other would.
During this time, Samantha’s students, Jasmine (played by Gail Bean) also gets pregnant. While it is more unconventional than Samantha’s they find themselves both relating to similar things. Jasmine probably can’t go to a particular college because of her pregnancy, Samantha can’t get her dream job because she’s due a week before it starts. They both struggle with the fact that their spouses haven’t “grown up.” It shows how one incident like pregnancy can be universal no matter how old you are or where you come from.
Swanberg wrote the film because she gravitates to creating relatable pieces. Unexpected is heavily autobiographical, as she also was a teacher that became pregnant the same time one of her students did. Though that student had already graduated so the instance was a bit different. Later when it was close to filming she realized the gap in films about pregnancy, “[It’s] such a part of humanity that literally everyone was born from a woman and there’s very few movies about it,” says Swanberg.
As for casting, she chose Smulders because, “She really felt real even though she looks like a super model,” laughs Swanberg. Smulders also has a five year old child and was also pregnant during filming so she immediately connected to the story. (Yes, that is her real belly you see in the film.) Swanberg and Smulders would go over the dialogue with each other and edit it to make to feel more real and relatable to each other and their own personal pregancies.
Overall, while there is no huge antagonist, no giant climax, is there supposed to be in real pregnancies? The film is supposed to be just that. Simple, sincere, and true-to-life, the way unexpected pregnancies are honestly handled. Swanberg has nothing in the pipeline as of yet, but don’t be surprised to see more from her in the future.