It’s quite conceivable that Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson), the shoo-in valedictorian at her Missouri high school, has never failed a test in her life. When we meet her, however, in the opening frames of the HBO Max original Unpregnant, she’s not getting the result she wanted on a very different kind of test—the one that involves peeing on a stick. She eventually concludes that her best option is to get an abortion, but quickly discovers that access to one is largely dependent on your ZIP Code.
That’s quite the set-up for what emerges as a super-fun road-trip comedy, but in director Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s capable hands, Unpregnant becomes a top-notch buddy flick that embraces its controversial subject matter and rides it all the way to the uncompromising finish line. Goldenberg (who directed the past May’s so-so Valley Girl remake) had an abortion herself when she was younger, and it’s clear that her experience helped shape the film and give it the voice it needed to become one of the more entertaining—and educational—films of the summer. (Goldenberg co-wrote the screenplay along with Ted Caplan and Jenni Hendriks, whose novel the film is based on.)
When Veronica starts Googling her options, she quickly discovers that the closest clinic that doesn’t require parental consent (her mom is a devout Catholic) is three states and 14 hours away In Albequerque. Unable to tell her posse of super-popular girlfriends and eager to get away from the child’s father (who neglected to tell her that he knew the condom was torn), she sucks in a breath and turns to her estranged former best friend Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), who has become a school outsider, complete with Oscar the Grouch backpack and matching shag haircut. Bailey is up for the ride (she has nothing better to do on any given weekend) and agrees to tag-along.
Playing like a teen hybrid of Midnight Run and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Unpregnant gives us the standard Murphy’s Law of road trips but is far from content with leaving it there. Sure, detours, car trouble, and sketchy folks they meet along the way all factor heavily, but we also get plenty of heartfelt bonding between the ex-besties along with a nominal amount of pro-choice commentary—highlighted by Veronica’s frustrated yelp, “Why in the hell do you need to get parental consent to have an abortion but not to actually birth a human child?!”
Richardson, who broke out in 2016’s excellent The Edge of Seventeen, turns in a complex and nuanced performance that makes Veronica feel real and honest and (depending on your leanings) worthy of our sympathies. And the chemistry she shares with Ferreira gives Unpregnant the solid foundation it desperately requires. The outstanding supporting cast (including Breckin Meyer, Giancarlo Esposito, as Betty Who) also steps up, giving the film some added color to keep things humming along
Timely, unflinching, and messy (in the best way possible), Unpregnant will surely ruffle plenty of feathers in the pro-life community, but just as Dinesh D’Souza’s work is geared for a particular audience, so is this. Steer way clear if you’re entrenched in a particular camp, but for everyone else, strap in for the best female-buddy-road-trip since Thelma and Louise took off for Mexico.