The buddy road trip film has taken many forms over the years, but whether it be Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Green Book, characters sharing the same car on a cross-country trip always provides an intimate experience filled with mishaps and unexpected pit stops. Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s Unpregnant does this by giving an often taboo topic a fun, fresh coat of paint. Movies like Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Little Woods have illustrated the far lengths women seeking abortions must go, but oh so somberly. HBOMax’s latest original and adaptation of the book by Ted Caplan and Jenni Hendriks is very much an attempt at Thelma & Louise meets Booksmart.
Unpregnant follows a college-aspiring 17-year-old Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson), who finds out she’s pregnant with her boyfriend (his favorite actor is Vin Diesel to paint a picture) . Fearing what the circumstances mean for the future, she asks her ex-best friend, Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), to drive her all the way from Missouri to New Mexico over the weekend to get an abortion, since it's the closest option for her to make the decision on her own.
It takes some storytelling shortcuts along the way on its indie budget, but overall serves as a funny flip on the road trip subgenre that not only has a firm viewpoint, but will take your impression of its stars far and wide.
Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira’s electric pairing is worthwhile.
Unpregnant is not a one size fits all comedy. Expect random Star Trek: The Next Generation references and a wacky ballet sequence among other oddly specific moments. Will everyone find this funny? No. But, would you have constant fun with every pair you go on a road trip with either? Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira collaborated with the filmmakers to make the movie feel organic, and how much fun these two actresses had working together oozes off the screen. The movie brings out Ferreira’s artistry with dry humor, just as much as it presents the Euphoria star’s dramatic chops. Haley Lu Richardson shows off her charisma and bounce-off-the-walls energy. Once you're strapped in, these two provide some great laughs.
The pairing is unexpectedly great, though they are bogged down by the movie committing to a by-the-book versus edgy dynamic. For Richardson’s character specifically it feels as though it stops Unpregnant from some great moments. There is sometimes the sense that the stars are playing parts etched by the ‘buddy comedy gods’ rather than following two young women as they genuinely rekindle their childhood friendship. More time spent on their backstory could have fleshed out some of their on-screen problems as well.
There’s a strange stiffness to Unpregnant that doesn’t match its ambitions.
A glaring issue with Unpregnant is its script and stars ask for a truly let-loose energy that the filmmaking itself does not fully emulate. The movie boxes in its stars by giving them high school labels that are perpetuated throughout the movie with other characters as well. High school drama can help a movie if done right, but it's treated here like a tiredly heightened version of the truth we’ve seen too many times on screen with coming-of-age films. There’s a whole social media commentary subplot for Veronica that feels super forced and unnecessary.
Another place where Unpregnant runs mixed is it doesn’t always commit to what it set out to do. There are long stretches (mostly in the beginning) where it's pieced together in the editing room like a full-on drama with Barbie Ferreira is spitting out some fire quips. And then there are places in the end where you'd expect the movie to delve into its more dramatic elements more deeply, but instead it mostly breezes through. In sum, there’s a difficult balance Unpregnant sets out to accomplish and it while it works as is, it's not polished.
Yes, Unpregnant is by-the-numbers, but it ultimately delivers a thoughtful message.
The biggest bummer is how straight-laced Unpregnant can be despite its appetite to be wholly original. Uneven as it may be, the movie is still juggling a lot of different tones and messaging here and still hits its mark. It’s a teen-friendly comedy that tastefully and entertainingly calls out the laws at large surrounding abortion throughout the United States. There are some jabs at the system, but it does not dramatize abortion itself or lay stake on weighing in on the conversation itself other than making it clear that a woman’s choice is not up for debate.
Centrally, Unpregnant is not simply an ‘abortion comedy’. It's focus remains on its two passengers as it explores the journey of a relationship out of its element and challenges it. Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s film is a spunky, memorable and heartfelt ride despite some bumps along the way.
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