The very first shot of Unpregnant is unglamorous and deeply honest – teenager Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) peeing on a pregnancy test in a cramped school bathroom stall. She’s anxious and fretting and just moments after we’re introduced to her, someone enters the bathroom and Veronica’s test slips out of her hands and slides in front of the new guest: enter Veronica’s old best friend Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), who is now the first person to know about Veronica’s pregnancy despite not having spoken to her in years. It’s an opening so deeply farcical that any iciness encasing the concept of an “abortion comedy” is immediately broken.
This new addition to the coming-of-age genre is an abortion-road-trip-teen-buddy-comedy, a seemingly disastrous amalgam of genres that’s crafted into something genuine and funny in the hands of the director Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Veronica and Bailey journey to New Mexico so the former can get an abortion without her parents knowing (which is illegal in her home state Missouri) in a frantic, cross-country drive that has just as many chaotic pit stops as one can expect. It’s as modern a teen film as they come, and has plenty of heart to spare.
Confronting Abortion Stigma
Sincerity and hilarity are deftly balanced when dealing with the film’s subject material, and jarring melodrama is absent. Much of the film’s conflict actually has to do with matters outside of Veronica’s pregnancy – she’s absolutely sure she wants an abortion, and her only issue is the people standing in her way: state law, her deeply religious family, possessive boyfriend, judgmental friends, and random strangers who think they have jurisdiction over her body.
The latter issue is most reflective of the strange politicization of abortion, a still hotly debated topic in current times. It’s illustrated in one of the film’s most hilarious bits featuring a pro-life family, an RV with a humongous image of a baby on its front, and a high-speed chase – all drenched in horror-comedy. It’s a riotous exhibition of finding humor in the most unlikely of topics without being insensitive.
But it’s just moments after this high that Veronica cracks from the weight of all that has occurred to her in the past 24 hours; screaming to the sky how unjust it is that parental consent is required for abortion but not for human birth. She punctuates it with a raised finger and “fuck you Missouri state legislature!”. Her frustration is a constant throughout the film and is on par with the breakneck, high-tensioned speed the comedy runs at. It’s an intense emotion the film refuses to shove aside as she undergoes the arduous journey to rid herself of a burden she never asked for, Bailey by her side all the while.
Despite what the blunt title may suggest, the film is just as much about female friendship as it is about teen abortion, and Veronica and Bailey’s relationship takes much of the center stage. Their history is not quite fully elaborated on but has ostensibly left them from best friends to positioned on opposite ends of the social ladder; a ladder that completely collapses when model child Veronica needs social outcast Bailey’s help in a moment of desperation.
It’s in this road well-traveled, a teen comedy featuring former BFFs, that the film starts to spread itself thin. A few worn-out tropes are employed in an attempt to cover as many topics as possible, and the shifts between each of the hijinks the two girls undergo can feel stilted. Some subplots are tiring, but some are welcome; particularly one involving a Betty Who cameo and a kiss set to Alaska by Maggie Rogers.
Ultimately, the film’s saving grace is in its earnestness and heart. Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira have electric onscreen presences that make it impossible to truly dislike the film, even in its tritest moments. It’s open and unashamed, and perhaps best epitomized in a gleeful sequence where Veronica and Bailey scream “we’re gay and pregnant!” at the top of their lungs on a carnival ride with wide smiles on their faces.
Unpregnant is funny and sweet without being cloying, and even in its most uneven moments, is saved by the charisma of its lead actresses. Though dauntingly ambitious on paper, it grounds itself in sincerity and provides laughs in spades while remaining genuine and respectful to the subject at its core.
What did you think of the film? Is it a successful entry in the teen comedy genre? Let us know in the comments!
Unpregnant is streaming on HBO Max.
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