Unappealing: MCFL’s Resoonst to Unpregnant (2020)
By Sonja Morin, Communications Intern
I spent Friday night last week watching the new HBO Max release Unpregnant. Based on the 2019 novel of the same name by Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan, the film follows Veronica (played by Haley Lu Richardson), an Ivy-League bound senior who finds out she’s facing an unexpected pregnancy. Worried about the backlash from her community, she decides to roadtrip with Bailey (played by Barbie Ferreira), her estranged best friend, to be able to obtain an abortion without parental consent. While the film itself aims to be a pro-choice manifesto masquerading as a girls’ road trip movie, it fails to satisfy either aim.
Road trip films have certain components that distinguish the great from the lackluster, the first of these being a credible portrayal of the protagonists. Unpregnant is meant to be aimed at Generation Z, the younger component of the youth in America. Being part of this generation myself, I paid especially close attention to how people my age are portrayed in the film through the performances and script. What I found were stereotypes and weaponized characters, rather than compassionate examinations of Generation Z teens. Veronica is the Type A student, while Bailey is the loner tomboy. Much like these protagonists, all the other characters are one-sided and have a limited amount of defining qualities.
Road trip flicks have lighthearted, funny situations sprinkled between moments of drama to add complexity to the plot. Many of the situations in the story are meant to mirror that particular mood, but a more serious consideration of the film makes the viewer realize just how many truly serious situations are made light. Both Veronica and Bailey have terrible support systems in their lives, which lead them to take the road trip without anyone knowing in the first place. Both girls are underage and hitchhike multiple times with complete strangers. Near-arrest, stealing a car, dangerous driving, and near-kidnapping are all results of these choices. It’s played off in the movie as a humorous series of incidents on the way to the clinic. But these aren’t lighthearted complexities, they are truly dangerous situations all justified only because of abortion. The utter disregard on the part of the writers for the justification of what would otherwise be incredible and insupportably dangerous behavior is obvious to any viewer, regardless of whether they are pro-life or pro-choice.
While it is clear that the film suffers in its attempt to be a road trip movie, let us examine whether it is successful in promoting its pro-choice message. A quality social justice film must be subliminal but strong in its messaging. Refusing to fall into preachy ground, it instead uses emotional, moving stories to convey its point. It’s more than obvious that Unpregnant is meant to be an antithesis to the 2019 release Unplanned. However, its failures in fulfilling the criteria for a quality social justice film makes it a less-than-compelling response from the pro-choice movement.
From a propagandistic standpoint, this film gave me a similar feeling as a panoramic short film entitled Across the Line, which was produced by Planned Parenthood a little over five years ago. It overused demonizing stereotypes against the pro-life movement, blasted statistics, and overall felt preachy and burdensome in its messaging. It fails because its obviousness in its agenda alienates the viewers and throws aside any merit the story might have. Very similarly to Across the Line, Unpregnant characterizes the pro-choice people in an overwhelmingly positive light, while all the pro-life characters are delusional and hateful. It’s old stereotypes resurrected for the purpose of demonizing anyone with the slightest opposition to abortion. Unpregnant goes to the point of including a crazed, specifically Catholic couple, that goes as far as holding the protagonists captive while nearly driving off a cliff, all in the name of preventing Veronica from reaching the abortion clinic.
One particularly propagandistic element of the film is the statistics. Multiple times, both Veronica and Bailey recite statistics regarding abortion and contraceptives. No member of Generation Z would go to the lengths of reciting a number to the decimal point regarding any of these topics, even when they are truly passionate about it. In fact, most people don’t memorize statistics to the decimal. The only point to include the numbers is to push a particular rhetorical point. If the movie is meant to be subliminal in its push for the pro-choice agenda, it certainly misses the mark.
I am nearly positive the film was meant to enrage pro-lifers as well as rally pro-choicers. As a pro-lifer, I feel pity for the pro-abortion industry. Surely many on the pro-choice side feel the same. It is rather disturbing that the cultural leaders of the movement felt the need to sink to such a low in response to Unplanned. The result was a flick that not only justifies terrible actions and is a lackluster attempt at filmmaking, but fails to carry the intended message with conviction. In fact, it only unearths the dishonest, dehumanizing, demoralizing, and disempowering nature of abortion. My hope is that any who view the film, or even hear of it, are empowered to speak out against this ugliness that rises from abortion and its defense, as so clearly visualized in Unpregnant.
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You can also order or stream UnPlanned on Amazon Prime now. Check it out here (click through the "Amazon Smile" link to be sure your purchase supports life in our state) or read a list and reviews of some of my life-affirming film recommendations at this link.