Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s “Unpregnant,” released in September 2020 on HBO Max, follows a newly pregnant 17-year-old Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) and her ex-best friend Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), as they travel across the country from Missouri to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The duo’s aim is for Veronica to get an abortion without parental consent. The film entertains, but it ultimately falls flat both in cohesion of storyline and in making a statement on abortion.
This film could have benefited from being a miniseries — six episodes rather than a feature-length film. Perhaps an expanded version of the story could’ve better explored the emotional depths of Veronica's decision. The events in “Unpregnant,” however, unfold episodically instead of flowing into one another.
For example, in one scene, two seemingly important characters are introduced to our heroes in Texas, only for them to never reappear. The next scene then sees Bailey and Veronica being kidnapped by a hyper pro-life couple bent on stopping Veronica from getting an abortion — there’s little connection between plot moments other than our two main characters.
Another issue with the film is Richardson and Ferreira having no on-screen chemistry. Instead of feeling like ex-best friends brought back together by the pregnancy, they feel like neighbors who politely nod to each other and haven’t spoken in the 20 years they’ve been neighbors. They never seem to grow closer during the movie or have any interactions that feel like genuine friendship. Even the end where they supposedly reconnect feels forced and awkward.
With these two actresses, this feels like a failure on the writer's part, considering how phenomenal they typically are. I adore Richardson in “The Edge of Seventeen,” and Ferreira is a fan favorite on “Euphoria” for a reason. You’d think “Unpregnant” would rock simply because of its casting, but ultimately, it falls short, even as the actresses give it their all.
Richardson does an excellent job of portraying a teen forced to face the decision of having a child or getting an abortion. In one of my favorite scenes, Veronica launches into a fraught monologue about how she shouldn’t have to travel just to get an abortion without her parent's permission. The monologue was exciting and had the emotion I wish the writers and director held throughout the entire film instead of just in that scene.
One last thing I could have done without is the source of Veronica’s pregnancy. Her boyfriend knew the condom broke and didn’t tell her until she informed him she was pregnant a month later. Though the film acknowledges his actions as wrong, they’re still not treated as seriously as they should have been.
Overall, the film was entertaining and emotional, if by the barest definitions. However, it definitely could have taken its concept and expanded it so much more. Even with that, if you want to watch a movie with an insane road trip, I’d recommend it. If you want to watch a movie about the emotional struggle of the choice to get an abortion, perhaps skip this one.
Elizabeth Secor is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @esecor2003
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