The first thing I’ll say about the movie, Unexpected, is that it lives up to its title. Each time I thought “Oh right, this is how its going to go, ” I was brought up short by a, well, unexpected plot twist.
I’m not going to spoil that for you here. The movie, directed by David Hunt and co-produced by Patricia Heaton, who are husband and wife, is a breath of fresh air for moviegoers. While popular movies try to outdo each other in comic book heroes, the multiverse, and special effects, some of us appreciate films about real people and the struggles they face. In this case, the story centers around Bob and Amy, a happily married couple who never expected to face infertility. A serious topic, but the film shines with quirky humor and life-affirming developments that bring joy amidst sadness.
To a person, the cast gives excellent performances. Joseph Mazello as Bob, and Anna Camp as Amy are multi-dimensional characters whose emotional reaction to life’s ups and downs are often endearingly wacky. Fans of Patricia Heaton’s’ past series will be delighted to see the marvelous Neil Flynn (her husband Mike from The Middle); as well as Pat Finn and “Reverend TimTom” himself, Paul Hipp. And I was happy to see Ito Aghayere, who was one of the stars of Heaton’s’ recent comedy series, Carol’s Second Act. Ryann Shane, as the teen mom, gave a terrific understated performance of a rather overstated young woman.
I was initially startled by the film’s comedic treatment of psychiatry and even an attempt at self-harm—though was that scene in homage to the great 1980 comedy Airplane?–however, humor is what helps us approach the unbearable, and the scenes are fair indictments of our quick-fix culture when it comes to mental and emotional distress. In this story, psychological pain and lack of a sense of purpose are healed by the characters realizing that we are all connected, that, as Bob says in a moment of revelation, “Its not what we are that matters. Its what we are to each other.” Bob is shocked to find that happiness isn’t found through navel-gazing but reaching out to help someone else, even a stranger. Pertinent for our Human Life Review audience, this is a pro-life and pro-adoption film, but, thankfully, we are not hit over the head with a “message.” Instead, as events unfold, several characters have moments of emotional release that reveal the heartache and frustrations of our confused culture when it comes to sex and babies.
I cannot fail to mention the delightful co-stars: Furry and feathered friends. The movie is based on the book Enslaved by Ducks—a hilarious book by Bob Tarte, about a man whose whole life is upended by his wife’s adoption and devotion to animals, first a bunny—who ends up chewing through the electrical wire—and then ducks, chickens, and, in the movie at least, baby turkeys. Hunt and Heaton added the human adoption angle—but, as you will see, the film is more about Bob and Amy’s journey from the grief of infertility to an openness to adopt. Their expanded family is only glimpsed at the film’s closing.
All in all, Unexpected is a fun, funny and uplifting film that puts at its center relatable characters dealing with the vicissitudes of life. There are no glib answers; instead, we see flawed yet good-hearted people find the courage to get up when they’ve been knocked down—without super heroes, but with trust in God, who makes all things new. Christianity is a subtle but overarching theme, as Amy, who leads with hope, wears a cross throughout. And it is no accident that the film ends with a beautiful rendition of the hymn “His eyes are on the sparrow.” In an interview with Christian Headlines, Heaton said: “What that song signifies is that the lives that you’re watching in this movie–they’re small lives, they’re people you might pass on the street, never notice, never get to know–but everybody is known, right? Everybody has a story. Everybody’s known to God. And so that song is about that Scripture, He cares for you. … That’s why that song is in there.”