‘Unpregnant’: the politics of choice are ‘coming of age’
Colleen Fischer | Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Bechdel test? Who is she? “Unpregnant” is a film in which two female friends talk about everything other than boys. This film handles the most contentious issue facing the tri-campus community with realistic comedy and grace, humanizing women who get abortions in the process.
“Unpregnant” features a 17-year-old protagonist, Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson), who has, thus far, lived up to her Catholic parents’ expectations in every way. Although she is a diligent condom user, Veronica somehow finds herself pregnant while underage and living in Missouri. Her boyfriend is displayed as sweet, supportive and suffocating — at first. However, he quickly becomes intolerable as his motives grow obvious. Veronica, in need of an abortion without parental consent, relies on her estranged best friend, Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), to drive her across state lines to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Unpregnant” makes use of classic movie tropes, such as road trips and buddy girl films, in order to fit complex issues and striking character development into the script. Like every good road trip movie, this movie has a fantastic soundtrack that features the Clash, the Regrettes and Kelly Clarkson at high volume. The soundtrack changes genre with who’s driving, immersing the viewer in the film while adding depth to the characters. The script never feels the need to explain itself. Instead, it relies on the viewer to infer and be okay with not being omniscient.
The film uses its medium intelligently and intentionally. It often employs color grading and cinematography to reflect Veronica’s emotions, adding meaning to the dialogue. Religion is never directly addressed, but its presence is still felt. Pope Francis hangs over her family’s fireplace, and a saint medal hangs around her neck the entire film. Establishing shots feature roadside crosses, “crosses” formed by telephone poles and other images subtly revealing Veronica’s feelings about religion.
But let’s talk about what the movie was really about — choice. Veronica’s choice to have an abortion is made with certainty at the beginning of the film; from there, factors like legislation, family loyalty, money and people simply get in the way. In the end, then, this one choice is seemingly less significant to her than all the choices she and her friend make along the way. Choices such as who to be friends with, who to trust and who to be.
People never really seem to be sources of conflict in “Unpregnant.” Even when she is being chased by well-intentioned pro-life individuals, it seems as if their rhetoric is the problem, not them. The way that Goldenberg — the film’s director — opts for abstract antagonists like bureaucracy and belief instead of direct human enemies allows for a strong representation of the human community that is inviting and encouraging, especially following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The film humanizes not only a girl who receives an abortion but also all the people who support her along the way, from libertarians and race car drivers to pawnshop owners. Although the film’s subjects sometimes become caricatures, this use of archetypes allows for almost universal relatability, meaning that the majority of viewers will be able to relate to at least one character; this forces viewers to realize that girls who need abortions look more like our daughters, our friends and ourselves than we sometimes like to think.
In the end, the film’s central narrative asks us to contend with an important reality: the way we discuss abortion directly impacts whether young girls will feel comfortable asking for help, or hitchhike across three states instead. The greatest frustration in this film is how alone the teenagers feel, presumably because of unsentimental political discussions they have overheard and participated in throughout their lives. It makes me wonder about the invisible damage the toxic dialogue around abortion creates.
Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Starring: Barbie Ferreira, Haley Lu Richardson, Alex MacNicol
If you like: “Booksmart,” “Lady Bird,” “The Edge of Seventeen”