‘Unpregnant’: Female Buddy Comedy Sheds Light on How Strict Abortion Laws Fail Teens
A young woman goes on an arduous journey to have a safe and legal abortion HBO Max’s “Unpregnant,” the latest film to remind us how just how inadequate abortion access is in most states. However, while “Unpregnant,” which was adapted by writer-director Rachel Lee Goldenberg from the novel of the same name, tackles a hot-button issue, it is not an overly dramatic film, but a road trip buddy company celebrating female friendship, as well as the right to choose.
Haley Lu Richardson stars as Veronica, a high-achieving high school senior who discovers that she is pregnant, despite using protection. So scared is she of her devout Catholic mother (Mary McCormack) discovering her condition that she takes a pregnancy test in a location that is less than ideal for privacy, a bathroom stall at her high school. While her unseen older sister had a baby young, she knows right away that teen motherhood is not what she wants, and this decisive young woman, who displays remarkable maturity for her age, makes the decision to have an abortion. However, her plan hits a snag when she discovers that because she is still 17, she cannot have the procedure done at the local clinic without parental permission, which is not an option for her. The closest place she can go to is in New Mexico, so she makes a detailed plan to make the round trip, 14 hours each way, from her home in Missouri to Albuquerque in one weekend.
Veronica’s pregnancy is a result of a condom breaking during sex with her boyfriend, Kevin (Alex MacNicoll), who at first comes across as merely dopey, but eventually reveals himself to be pretty toxic. While MacNicoll gives a solid performance, this is the one part of the film that doesn’t make sense, that someone Veronica would be with such a dud. Her catty girlfriends aren’t much better. After someone finds Veronica’s discarded pregnancy test in a dumpster, these girls make it their mission to find out which of their classmates could be knocked up.
With few other options, Veronica turns to Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), her outcast childhood friend from whom she has grown apart in recent years, to drive her to Albuquerque. Although Bailey wants to help Veronica and is open to reconnecting with her, both have complicated feelings about their friendship and what went wrong. Fortunately, they have plenty of time to talk on the road, and Goldenberg does a great job of exploring the nuances of female friendship. Richardson and Ferreria both deliver stellar performances and play nicely off of each other as the more free-spirited and funny Bailey pushes her type A pal out of her comfort zone. Bailey may be there to support Veronica, but she’s a fully fleshed out character who is revealed to have an ulterior motive in going to New Mexico.
But it’s not all girl talk, as Veronica and Bailey are put through the ringer during their journey, beginning with their having to hide from the cops. Goldenberg doesn’t hold back from skewering pro-lifers, here a deceptive couple played by Sugar Lyn Beard and Breckin Meyer, and one of the funniest scenes involves the young woman in a car chase with a bus with a giant baby on it. Other memorable characters they meet during their journey include a gun-toting limo driver (Giancarlo Esposito) and singer Betty Who as the coolest lesbian race car driver.
It is no major spoiler to reveal that the climax of “Unpregnant” is Veronica actually getting the abortion, and we stay with her after she leaves Bailey behind in the lobby. A voice-over from a kindly nurse explains exactly what the procedure entails, making it clear that what goes on inside a clinic isn’t frightening like some lawmakers and lobbyists want the public to believe.
“Unpregnant” begins streaming Sept. 10 on HBO Max.