READ MORE: Watch: Cobie Smulders Tries to ‘Have it All’ in ‘Unexpected’ Trailer
Charles Shyer’s 1987 dramedy “Baby Boom” could have easily been titled “Unexpected.” The Diane Keaton-starring feature tracks Keaton’s career-minded J.C. Wiatt (she’s known in some circles as “the tiger lady,” she’s just that vicious when it comes to business) as she, well, unexpectedly finds herself thrust into motherhood. J.C. doesn’t even get to enjoy a pregnancy and all the bonding and preparation that goes with it, as her baby — or, in the beginning at least, the baby in question — all but shows up on her doorstep, a somewhat strange inheritance left to her by a distant relative (one she had not seen in decades and did not even realize was a mother).
J.C.’s struggle is multi-faceted, as she attempts to marry a hard-won (and, of course, unexpected) affection for baby Elizabeth with her fast-paced career as a management consultant and a high-powered Manhattan firm and her relationship with boyfriend Steven (Harold Ramis, playing amusingly against type).
J.C.’s journey — she eventually abandons plans to adopt out Elizabeth, quits her job and moves to Vermont to soak up the country life — makes for a very entertaining film, one complete with all sorts of wacky storylines related to J.C. and Elizabeth’s acclimation to a laidback small town (including a house riddled with problems and a welcoming, if still cautious reception from the local folk — “Baby Boom” makes a fine companion to “Funny Farm,” and that’s partially due to the fact that both were filmed in Southern Vermont, which is rife with teensy hamlets that boast population counts that barely crack triple digits). Although Shyer’s film is funny and sweet, it also takes on some hefty ideas, especially an honest depiction of the struggles women face with work-life balance.
Kris Swanberg’s new feature “Unexpected” (hey, look at that title) does the same thing, with a fresh twist. While “Baby Boom” is continually focused on the impact Elizabeth has on J.C.’s career, from her quitting her beloved (if very tough) job to give the pair a better life and then deciding to become an applesauce manufacturer (mostly due to baby Elizabeth’s adoration for J.C.’s homemade sauce, good enough to inspire the new mom to turn it into a thriving business, run right out of their dilapidated farmhouse), Swanberg’s film eases into the professional fallout from Samantha’s (Cobie Smulders) unexpected pregnancy.
Swanberg’s film is mostly concerned with how high school teacher Samantha’s pregnancy matches up with that of one of her students, the ambitious Jasmine (Gail Bean), and although their relationship and shared experience forms a compelling portion of the film (it also appears to be the highlight of the film’s marketing campaign and the centerpiece of its official synopsis), it’s Swanberg’s whipsmart examination of how their imminent children impact their professional goals that feels the most ambitious and exciting. It also feels the most real.
Both Samantha and Jasmine have expectations for their futures — notably, they’re not big, crazy ideas, Samantha is looking to take on a dream job she’s more than qualified for, and stellar student Jasmine is excited about going to college — that are changed and, in some cases, all but dashed by the news that they’re expecting.
The story is rooted in real world concerns and practical issues: Samantha can’t take a job that starts the same month she’s due, while Jasmine simply cannot logistically take her baby to her dream school (and still go to class and have a job and have school housing). The push and pull of “Unexpected” exists in the pair trying to figure out not what is more important or what takes precedence, but how to balance the two desires, finding time for both their children and professional paths that keep them happy. Can women really have it all? Samantha and Jasmine both want to try, just like J.C. did nearly three decades earlier.
“Baby Boom” eventually takes a stance on the matter, as J.C.’s baby food business starts booming, enough to very nearly pull her back into corporate life, which she mostly shuns not only to keep control of her company, but to do it her way, a way that ensures better balance. Despite the appeal of a multi-million dollar deal (babies, after all, do have to eat, and lots), J.C. doesn’t want to go back to her old life in the city, even if it means not growing the business as big as it could be. She stays in the farmhouse, with both her business and her baby. “Unexpected” doesn’t take such a rosy approach to its conclusion, however, preferring to leave things more up in the air, a narrative choice that is more contemporary in its telling and more genuine in its feel.
Maybe Samantha and Jasmine can’t have it all — or, maybe they can’t right then — but they want to, and Swanberg’s treatment of the material both harkens back to the path laid out by films like “Baby Boom” while keenly balancing its own ideals along the way.
“Unexpected” opens in limited release and on VOD and iTunes on Friday.