At the beginning of “Unpregnant,” 17-year-old Veronica sits in a high school bathroom stall and pees on a pregnancy test. The positive result is just the beginning of a great adventure.
Veronica has no intention of having the baby, the result of a night of passion with her boyfriend, Kevin. Unfortunately, she lives in Columbia, Missouri, where a minor can’t get an abortion without parental consent, which is not going to happen because her mother and father are, in her words, “Jesus freaks.” A Google search reveals that the closest clinic in which she can have the procedure done is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a fifteen-hour drive away — and Veronica doesn’t have a car.
She also doesn’t want to reveal her secret to her closest friends, all members of the Popular Kids Clique, for whom gossip is the most valuable currency. Veronica instead turns for help to Bailey, who had been her best friend since childhood until something drove them apart a few years ago. Unlike Veronica and her current BFFs, who will all go off to Ivy League colleges, Bailey is a loner, even in the cafeteria, where no one sits at her table. But Bailey has a car, so Veronica rekindles their friendship and begs her to hit the road with her — and they’re off.
This is the point where it’s best that I don’t reveal any more of the plot, other than to say the teens get involved in all sorts of escapades and have to overcome several obstacles. To tell you more would be to ruin the movie, which I don’t want to do, because the ride is so much fun.
Haley Lu Richardson (Veronica) and Barbie Ferreira (Bailey) have a natural chemistry that reminds me of Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein in “Booksmart” (my review of that movie is here). Writer/director Rachel Lee Goldenberg gives them plenty to play with, including an impressive rant against the Missouri legislature for its oppressive abortion laws, which have left the state with only one clinic that performs the procedure (Planned Parenthood in St. Louis). At the same time, she does a good job of demystifying the abortion process. As in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” another movie from this year about a teen who has to travel out of state to get a safe abortion (my review is here), the clinic workers in Albuquerque handle the situation very gently, fully understanding how anxiety-ridden the moment can be. It was also nice to see that Goldenberg had several other women in the clinic, as more evidence to Veronica that she’s not alone.
Alongside a supporting cast of mostly-unknowns, there are also nice performances by two veterans in small roles: Mary McCormack (“In Plain Sight,” “The West Wing,” “Private Parts”) as Veronica’s mother and Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad,” “The Boys,” “Homicide: Life On The Street”) as a man who helps out in the last leg of the voyage. I wonder if Esposito agreed to play the role because he was already in Albuquerque for the most recent season of “Better Call Saul.”
While “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” played as a drama with no laughs, “Unpregnant” is full of them, thanks to Richardson and Ferreira’s sparkling timing. It is not a diatribe about abortion access as much as it is about two besties reigniting their friendship.
“Unpregnant” is streaming now on HBO Max, and I strongly recommend it, with a rating of 9 out of 10. It will be on my Best Movies Of 2020 list.