Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s Unpregnant is an extraordinarily important story about reproductive rights wrapped up in a sweet, goofy road trip flick.
Although we’ve never been particularly in love with the road trip “genre” (if it can even be called that), Rachel Lee Goldenberg may have singlehandedly changed our opinion around with her new film Unpregnant. Released on HBO Max, Unpregnant is like Juno meets Booksmart – a wickedly funny and poignant film that is just as heartwarming as it is witty. It’s a shame that many will miss out on the film entirely because it sits behind a subscription paywall courtesy of HBO, because if there’s any teen comedy this year that we’ll shout from the rooftops that everyone should see, it’s this one.
Starring Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira, Unpregnant follows two childhood friends who reunite for an impromptu road trip from suburban Missouri to an abortion clinic in Albuquerque after Victoria (Richardson) finds out that she’s pregnant. What ensues is a chaotic adventure that seems to be going in one (enjoyable) direction, before it takes a sharp left turn (no pun intended) into an even better one.
At the core of the film, of course, is the relationship between Victoria and Bailey. As a quick glance at the film’s poster will tell you, the two who were once best friends split apart to take drastically different paths – Victoria the popular, conventionally attractive, straight-A, Ivy League-bound goody two shoes, and Bailey the plus-sized, alternative, social outcast. Although at first Bailey got on our nerves – whether it was a combination of a few bad lines of dialogue, Ferreira’s performance, or both – we grew to appreciate her unique brand of humor that plays perfectly off of Haley Lu Richardson’s Victoria, who is unquestionably the star of the show.
Maybe Haley Lu Richardson just has one of those faces that makes you instantly trust her, but from the second Victoria appeared onscreen, we were on her side. Sure, she can be a little uptight, but her predicament is a terrifying one for any young woman to deal with, and it endears the audience to her immediately. Although her boyfriend (who pops up at random intervals in the film like whac-a-mole) can be a little dopey and grating at times, even her friends aren’t the bitchy one dimensional “popular girl” stereotypes you’d expect from this type of film – Vicotria is a very real, believable character with layers to her. It’s easy to picture her as someone from your hometown or that went to your high school – which is perfect when it comes to the universality of the film’s message.
Speaking of the film’s message, although it never beats you over the head with it (besides jumpstarting the plot, Victoria’s abortion itself is never really talked about in-depth until the very end of the film) Unpregnant is without a doubt critical viewing in a climate where reproductive rights are in constant question. Never preachy and incredibly accessible, the film presents abortion as nothing more than what it is – a quick, painless thing that is blown entirely out of proportion. Victoria never talks about regretting or questioning her decision – and we can’t commend the film for this enough.
Unpregnant legitimizes the unspoken struggles of so many young women – the stigma around getting an abortion, the fearmongering about the procedure, the damnation and criticism of painting scared, vulnerable women as “murderers” because they’re making the decision not to bring a child into the world before they’re ready. Unpregnant touches on all of these things, but the film never feels bogged down or heavy because of how seamlessly these ideas are integrated into the comedic beats of the film.
When it comes to the comedic beats, the movie is chock full of them – although it sits squarely in the genre of “comedy-drama”, it doesn’t skimp on the laughs, the best of which come from the insane swerve the film takes about 50 minutes in. We don’t want to give it all away here because the sudden change in the film’s trajectory is so funny you need to go into it blind, but we will say this: Giancarlo Esposito, Stephanie Beard, and Breckin Meyer all knock their roles out of the park. Esposito in particular is hilarious – flexing a pair of comedy chops we’d forgotten that he had. For those who only know him as Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul‘s stoic Gus Fring, his role here is like a splash of cold water to the face, in the best way possible.
The points when the film struggles are mostly related to Ferreira’s character Bailey – although we don’t want to place all the blame on her entirely, we did find ourselves getting annoyed and frustrated with her character, because Victoria has so much on the line, and Bailey is just sort of there most of the time. As we mentioned earlier, her dialogue and jokes don’t always land, but her best laughs come from when she’s riffing off of Richardson, or speaking Klingon. We have to admit, the film wins a few points for pandering so clearly to us Trekkies. Bailey also has a few plots of her own – one revolving around her absentee father, and the other a fling with a sexy Texan racecar drive (Betty Who) – the latter works much better than the former, which is a shame because we can see a version of the film where both could’ve worked, especially if woven together.
Still, though, a few jokes that didn’t land every now and then can’t stop us from singing the praises of Unpregnant. With the perfect lead in Hailey Lu Richardson and a bizarre plot that seamlessly helps destigmatize abortion, Unpregnant is an incredibly sweety, funny film that we can’t recommend enough.
Have you seen Unpregnant? What’s your favorite movie about teen pregnancy? Sound off in the comments below.