Coming-of-age films like Booksmart and The Edge of Seventeen have won me over as a movie viewer. As entertaining as Unpregnant is, it fell short compared to the genre’s best. In fact, it is much of what you would expect that it doesn’t add a lot that’s new. It brings together two former best friends Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson, who was also in The Edge of Seventeen) and Bailey (Barbie Ferreira) as they take a road trip from Missouri to New Mexico when Veronica finds out she is pregnant.
Like most coming-of-age movies, Unpregnant begins with a teenage girl that has friends that do not care for her. She then comes across a problem and enlists the help of someone the lead character would least expect. At this point, we are in very predictable territory. But while it does not seem promising at first, it gets going when the two girls start their road trip.
Although I wanted a larger focus on abortion and the morals behind it, I admire that the filmmakers keep that aspect to a minimum. Besides, the last thing anyone needs is for a movie to feel way too political. Fortunately, it spends most of its time on characters just trying to fix a problem they had on their hands. What resonated the most was when Veronica makes the film’s most relevant point: her frustration at the amount of trouble she had to go through in order to get herself an abortion. Since it delivers its message through its characters, Unpregnant does a good job of not making this film too heavy-handed.
That said, it felt too jumbled at times and it doesn’t help that the film has five credited screenwriters. I said earlier that Unpregnant largely exists as a coming-of-age movie. But the truth is that the movie often plays around with various other genres. Sometimes it leans into comedy, sometimes it leans into action, and there is even one moment that dabbles in suspense. One minute you have Veronica making a very moving point about abortion laws. The next minute, Veronica and Bailey are on the run from two bizarre pro-life strangers. Since it tries so hard to be all of those things, it ultimately does not gain a concrete identity. It makes it seem like director Rachel Lee Goldenberg does not know what the movie should be.
But while Unpregnant is tonally uneven, it knows to keep the rekindling friendship between Bailey and Veronica at the center. As the film progresses, you see who they both truly are when they are with each other and I credit that to the great chemistry between Richardson and Ferreira. For me, Bailey spoke to many of the young women who do not feel that they are normal. Growing up I felt different, so to see parts of myself in Bailey is what drew me to the film and her character. Knowing that the road trip brought them to remember why they were friends in the first place was what gave this film its edge.
So yes, this movie goes on the same route that most other coming-of-age movies have gone. On top of that, the ridiculous subplots feel like the writers scrambled some crazy antics without remembering to keep a consistent tone. Although those moments are entertaining, they don’t add to what the story is really about. But when it does focus on what the story is really about, the movie is quite charming. In fact, it is worth watching just to see Richardson and Ferreira take joy in each other’s presence. Thanks to the two leads, the film has a genuinely compelling relationship at its core, and it is strong enough that no amount of zany antics can truly overcome that. – Jacqueline Lainez
Unpregnant is available for streaming on HBO Max.
The film stars Haley Lu Richardson, Barbie Ferreira, Alex MacNicoli, Breckin Meyer, and Giancarlo Esposito.