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Haley Lu Richardson in Unpregnant.
Haley Lu Richardson in Unpregnant.
Photo: Showmax






3/5 Stars


A teenager's promising college-bound future is threatened when she realises she is pregnant. She makes a difficult decision that leads her on a hilarious road trip to New Mexico over three days with her ex-best friend.


The road movie genre has been synonymous with masculinity and America since World War II, and what is more American than the struggle of women to get access to healthcare? Unpregnant takes a genre that we know and moves between the confines of what comprises it while still making it relevant for the young women that the story is about.

Like its mentor Thelma & Louise, Unpregnant is the story of two women making a trip across the American South and meeting a slurry of different characters on the way, who help and sometimes obstruct their goals. It's a story of friendship, of a journey and about what it is like to be a woman in America.

The film begins with 17-year-old Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) taking a pregnancy test in the cubicle of her school bathroom. This is not part of her plan; she is a model student, college-bound, and has no intention of marrying or having children with her current boyfriend. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for her, this experience is witnessed by her former best friend Bailey (Barbie Ferreira). The two fell out after Bailey's parents divorced, and she started rebelling more, which differed from Veronica's straight-A plan. The difference between the two is stark: Veronica is popular, blonde-haired and preppy, while Bailey has green hair, walks around with a Sesame Street backpack and seems a lot more alternative.

After discovering she is pregnant, Veronica immediately tries to make a plan to get an abortion. After phoning a clinic, she discovers that her state does not allow her to get an abortion without parental consent. Her religious parents would not allow her to get an abortion. The closest clinic that allows abortions without parental consent is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a few states away from Missouri, where she lives. She maps out, and budgets for the trip, but has a false start in getting her friends, and later her boyfriend to help. So she turns to Bailey to drive her across the country, and it causes both of them to see the country and each other in different ways.

Abortion is never treated as an option in the film. Veronica never second-guesses herself, and even when outside factors, such as her extremely clingy boyfriend Kevin (Alex MacNicoll), tries to deter her, she stays true to her goal. But the constant obstacles that the two girls face as they try to take the trip is such an important metaphor for the struggles that women face to control their bodies. Despite the film being a comedy, and there are a lot of great comedic moments, the film gets very serious when it talks about the state legislature, which hinders women like Veronica, and forces them to have children that they don't want and are not ready for. Even though we do not have a legislature like that in South Africa, the film's tone invokes anger at systems like these that are actively against women having control of their own bodies.

There were points of the film that felt slightly uneven and like the story got away with itself, it felt messy and untidy at times, but the strongest aspect was the chemistry between the lead characters. Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira had such an effortless energy between them that it was easy to believe that these two different women were once best friends. It reminded me of the dynamics in other recent teen films such as Booksmart and The Edge of Seventeen (which also stars Richardson). Richardson is enigmatic as Veronica, and nails the emotional and sillier aspects of the character. She manages to move away from the popular overachiever stereotype into a character that is sympathetic and interesting.

Bailey can at times feel like a caricature of a quirky character that we are prone to see in teen comedies. But Ferreira has imbued so much heart into the character that you can't help but be endeared to her. This is Ferreira's first film role, and the character is so different to the role of Kat that she plays in Euphoria. She does an amazing job and makes you feel the loneliness and pain surrounding the character as she feels abandoned by everyone she loves.

Like in most road movies, every destination has its own array of eclectic characters. Many of these characters felt extremely underutilised, but none more than Betty Who as Kira, a race car driver. Kira offers to give them a ride to the next bus station, and Bailey is immediately attracted to her. Their exchange is sweet, but feels too short and slightly off from the rest of the film. I wish they had found a way to put Kira in more scenes. Breckin Meyer and Sugar Lyn Beard play a couple with nefarious means, and even though their scenes are a bit far-fetched and crazy at times, it provides excellent entertainment.

Giancarlo Esposito also has a small role as a conspiracy theorist who drives the girls in his limo. Even though the role seemed like it didn't fit inside the film, it was an enjoyable detour.

The essence of the film is the friendship between Veronica and Bailey, and where the film shines is in the quieter moments, away from the side characters, when it is just the two of them. Here, we get to see how the relationship between the two disintegrated and its effects; it is also here where the characters (especially Veronica) discover what true friendship is.

Unpregnant has the right amount of teen comedy that it is an enjoyable watch, but it still gives you something to think about regarding women's health, femininity and friendship.


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