By Jonathon Van Maren
In July, Eliza Hittman’s abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always was released, tracing the journey of two underage girls as they make their way from Pennsylvania to New York, where the heroine of the film will be able to procure an abortion without parental consent. It is a dark, gritty film, and Hittman pulls no punches. Abortion, the story makes clear, is an ugly necessity in an ugly world.
Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s Unpregnant (streaming on HBO Max), the second abortion road-trip movie of the year, is something quite different. Seventeen-year-old Veronica Clarke (Haley Lu Richardson), a cute, perky blond with an impeccable academic record and all-American girl-next-door looks finds herself pregnant and needs an abortion. But Missouri requires parental consent, and her parents are, in the words of her road-trip buddy Bailey Butler (Barbie Ferreria), “Jesus freaks.”
Unpregnant is a confusing fusion of genres: road-trip movie; coming-of-age tale; slapstick comedy. Veronica and Bailey launch off on a thousand-mile road-trip from Missouri to Albuquerque, N.M., where Veronica can get a Sunday-morning abortion while her Catholic parents are presumably in church. The “procedure,” as she refers to it, will cost just over $500 — but she has an ingenious solution. When she tells her boyfriend, Kevin, that she is pregnant, he promptly proposes to her, and she pawns the diamond engagement ring to fund the abortion trip.
What follows is a classic America road-trip: 1950s diners; state troopers; monster-truck rallies; amusement parks. The teens steal a car, hitch a ride in the box of a pickup truck in Texas (cue the country tunes), and discover things about each other and themselves. Everything is normal, except for the fact that the key message of the movie is constantly ramrodded home: Abortion is good. Pro-life laws are bad. Pro-lifers are the worst.