Unpregnant Review: An enjoyable and intriguing coming of age road trip
The newest original film for HBO Max, Unpregnant, is a delightful coming of age road trip flick that falls into some familiar trappings but ultimately stays fresh through it’s timely messaging about choice and the great leading chemistry that drives the whole film.
Most road-trip and coming of age films generally have one common element between the two that drives its characters and at least part of the story – sex. However, Unpregnant takes a different approach to sex in coming of age road trip movies by having its main duo hit the road on their way to get an abortion. The film follows ex-BFFs Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson), an Ivy League-bound senior who ends up facing a pregnancy that could jeopardize both her future and her relationship with her parents, and Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), a world-class misfit, as they attempt to drive through the South to help Veronica get abortion.
In terms of the story itself, which is actually adapted from the novel of the same name by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan, it’s pretty great as it touches on abortion in a way that is genuine and meaningful. Unpregnant certainly isn’t alone in films that deal with abortion, films like Little Woods and Waves instantly come to mind, but it sets itself apart through the impact its setting has on Veronica’s abortion. With her living in Missouri, one of the many states within the South that are highly against abortion clinics, she’s forced to travel all the way to Albuquerque, about three states over, just to get one. The film does a good job establishing the ramifications that Veronica faces both in her high school social life and within this environment.
Not only does Veronica have her “friends” and the entire high school on the hunt for who is possible pregnant after her test is found, but she has the eyes of the world around and her parents in the back of her head that makes the situation harder for her. Even in the initial parts of the film, Veronica even struggles to use the word abortion when describing what she needs to do because it’s such a dirty word to those around her and she would likely be immediately shamed for it. Her boyfriend Kevin (Alex MacNicoll) is also not much help since he’s not all that supportive of her decisions and is just trying to make decisions for her. Honestly, what makes Unpregnant so great is that its less so about a young woman dealing with an abortion, but more about her discovering choice. It’s really a story about her finding her voice and not just making choices based on the opinions of others, but what’s really best for her in her future. It’s what makes the story being about abortion a little more unique and easily relatable for younger viewers.
The film also holds just about nothing back in talking about abortion and creates some interesting messaging surrounding the hotly debated topic. It’s actually kind of nice that the film doesn’t lean to hard into religious obstacles for the girls to face, but rather ones that are more ethical and mental. Things like Veronica worrying about how her parents could hate her for this decision, people claiming that the operation could have lasting physical consequences on her body that make her nervous for the operation, and a couple of pro-life believers that are a little much and go really out of their way to stop Veronica and Bailey. Look, I’m not going to say that the film doesn’t wear its opinion on its sleeve, but its heart is also there and it’s enough to let go of how uncleverly blunt its messages can be at times – which are boiled down to one big rant Veronica has at one point.
However, the messages still carry some strong effectiveness to it through how the film shows the process of abortion and the great connection between Veronica and Bailey. There’s a whole sequence where a doctor actually goes over what getting an abortion is like, that isn’t graphic or anything like that, that strips away some of the fears people can have about the procedure. It’s a very calming moment that puts you at ease in the same way that it does Veronica and is a genuine look at abortion that most films won’t do. It’s also made to be very calming afterwards because the chemistry between Richardson and Ferreira is so sweet and infectious. Aside from some car karaoke that wasn’t exactly my jam, these two are a blast from start to finish and really feel like friends reconnecting. From them rediscovering their favorite way to mix-up their slushies to a great handshake they have when they pass state lines, they’re just a total blast of energy that’s hard not to love. Not to mention, the film allows Bailey to have some depth within her own story dealing with her sexuality and poor relationship with her father that allows the two to grow closer in a way that’s very warm and comforting.
The only other major issue that Unpregnant has stems from its structure since it basically follows the typical road trip movie formula. Even it’s description on HBO Max, the film harnesses the same kind of goofiness and comedic charm that anyone would expect in a road trip movie that ranges from meeting a bunch of unusual characters throughout the film to hitting some hitchhiking bumps and being lost in a deserted area. Even the way arguments come into conversations are easy to spot from miles away and none of this is to say that Unpregnant isn’t funny or enjoyable to watch, but it certainly doesn’t win many points for originality or creativeness outside of it’s main themes of abortion. Also, it was a little strange that they didn’t face more opposition along the way since, after all, they are traveling through the “Bible Belt” of the US. While they do keep quiet about Veronica being pregnant to most of the people they encounter, it might’ve been nice to get more voices in the conversation about abortion and make Veronica’s dilemma more impactful to people other than just them.
Unpregnant is a familiar, yet fun road trip flick that offers a new and more fleshed out perspective on abortion and choice as well as features a dynamic duo in Richardson and Ferreira that’s a lot of fun to watch. It certainly doesn’t completely break the mold in everything that it touches on, but it’s an interesting new voice in the ongoing conversation about abortion and is a worthwhile coming of age watch.