This is the second movie I have reviewed in 2020 that relates to women’s rights and state restrictions regarding abortion. In Eliza Hittman’s film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, we get a stark, but realistic view of the struggles the two main characters endure in order for one of them to get an abortion. They are underage girls from rural Pennsylvania going to New York City in order to receive an abortion without parental consent. The film is uncomfortable – both visually and in tone – and it is, at times, heartbreaking. Nevertheless, it is an exceptional film and deserves your time. You can check out my review of it here.
Unpregnant is NOT the same movie; it does, however, deal with very similar subject matter. In this film, a 17-year-old girl from Missouri named Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) discovers she is pregnant and wishes to have an abortion without her deeply religious parents knowing. Where is the closest state that will allow a 17-year-old to receive an abortion without parental supervision? New Mexico. Veronica teams up with her now-estranged childhood friend Bailey (Barbie Ferreira) to take a road trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico to have said abortion. Thus, begins a weird buddy road trip film, that also deals with a woman’s right to choose.
Goldenberg’s film is so vivid in color and landscapes - wide open plains, shiny cars, flashing lights - that the film feels more like Palm Springs than the gray claustrophobic version of New York City in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. The two main characters are friends that grew apart as they entered high school. Bailey embraces her weird: she is a child of divorce, she dyes her hair crazy colors, she is a gamer, and she sits alone at lunch (although this is never explained why, she seems cool to me). Veronica is a preppy smart type A girl; she’s looking forward to going to college, but she happens to have fallen in with a kind (but vapid) group of girls who like mani/pedis and gossiping about their classmates. Veronica’s boyfriend, Kevin, seems like a caring but clueless dude that she is hoping to leave behind upon graduation. Her pregnancy changes that plan when Kevin decides to pop the question in response to the news. This gesture spurs Veronica to plan a trip to New Mexico, and attempt to hock the diamond ring Kevin just gave her along the way to help with the costs of travel and the abortion. This sounds harsh, but Kevin also admits to not telling Veronica that he knew the condom broke about a month ago – thus causing her pregnancy.
The major differences between Unpregnant and Never Rarely, really boil down to their differences in tone. Unpregnant is much more reminiscent of Booksmart (another female led buddy trip movie of sorts) but it is far less engaging and funny. Its two main characters are on a journey to regain their connection and rekindle their lost friendship. There is no doubt that Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira are both extremely charismatic and have great chemistry with each other. I would definitely watch something starring them again. But the movie as a whole is less engaging than Booksmart or Never Rarely. Kevin pops up again and again, despite being a fairly bland character. We get a few cameos of varying degrees of awesomeness – from an intense pro-lifer played by Breckin Meyer (Clueless), to the always amazing (and highly underutilized) Giancarlo Esposito, playing a limo driver with a heart of gold. In between all of their “on the road shenanigans,” they get a chance to stop at a fair and meet the talented racecar driver and all-around-hottie, Kira (played by singer Betty Who). Bailey is rightfully overwhelmed by this awesome babe, and the two have a short but endearing meet-cute while checking out the rides at the fair. This short scene allows for Bailey to come out to Veronica and have it not be a very big deal. If there's one thing I did especially enjoy about Unpregnant, it was the realistic approach to how it portrayed the friendship between Bailey and Veronica. Their friendship works. This brings me to the film’s conclusion: what worked, and what didn’t.
The final act of the film deals with two major plot points: 1) Bailey visits and confronts her estranged father (with Veronica coming to the rescue); and 2) Veronica finally tells Kevin it is: “my life, my choice,” before she finally has an abortion. The lead up to Veronica following Bailey while she attempts to meet her dad works really well. The relationship between these two characters, more than any other characters, is what is really interesting about the film. Their dialogue feels real. It is not especially over the top with unnecessary crying and hugging. And Giancarlo Esposito being there to escort them to the abortion clinic just makes everybody feel good. (Honest, it does). Now, what doesn’t work as well: Kevin and the abortion clinic process itself. Having Kevin pop up again and again throughout the film like Ghostface from Scream is more annoying than anything. He is not particularly evil or interesting. He is just meh. Fairly bland. It seems like a waste of time to have Veronica deal with him again and again vs. having more screen time for another better character (say, Kira?) instead. Once Veronica has her showdown with Kevin in the clinic lobby, we finally have that moment of relief when Veronica is led away to have the procedure. This in my opinion is where the film should end. What happens afterwards seems to taint the positive feelings created by the friendship of these two girls. Part of this is due to the way the abortion clinic is portrayed. The clinic process is so drastically different from the one in Never Rarely that it is very jarring. It is warm and pink, more like a welcoming spa environment than a clinic. I understand that the idea is to portray the procedure in a positive light, but it seems a little over the top after watching Hittman’s more realistic portrayal. Veronica leaves the clinic with Bailey afterwards, ready to go eat a big breakfast, seemingly in no pain whatsoever. Maybe that is the case for some patients? I don’t want to assume. But it seems like a best-case scenario. The two friends make it home - confront their moms - and are back to school on Monday like nothing happened. Only that’s not quite true. Veronica decides that Bailey is the better friend, and forsakes her usual clique to sit with her old friend in the lunchroom and plan future road trips.
What it boils down to is: Unpregnant is a pretty fun buddy road trip movie dealing with surprisingly serious issues; Booksmart is a coming of age buddy movie with better jokes and stronger moments of poignancy; Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a more devastating but realistic look at female youth, the predatory nature of our society, and the struggle to maintain a women’s right to choose. But it may still be the best film of the three listed here. Check it out.
Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro