Director: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon
Cast: Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan, Robia Scott
Synopsis: Abbie Johnson is one of the youngest Planned Parenthood directors in the US. After she is asked to assist in an abortion at thirteen weeks gestation she instead resigns, becoming a pro-life activist.
MPAA Rating: R (for some disturbing/bloody images)
Runtime: 1 hr 46 min
Release Date: March 29, 2019
One of the most controversial topics in the world today is the issue of abortion. All the questions like "Is the fetus human? Why or why not? Does it become human at a certain stage during pregnancy? Does the mother have the right to do what she wants with her own body?" have been debated for decades, with no resolution in sight. Instead, what we have is the pro-life group debating the pro-choice group (or vice versa) endlessly in a barrage of criticism and argumentative discussion. A healthy way to enact change, right?
Unplanned is the true story of former Planned Parenthood director Abbie Johnson's (Ashley Bratcher) journey from her pro-choice views to her pro-life beliefs, which all stemmed from an event she witnessed at the very site of her work--an abortion via suction aspiration.
Fittingly told in narration style from her point of view, the film weaves its way from her college years to her experience at Planned Parenthood, mostly focusing on the latter. While its agenda is unabashedly clear and straightforward, it offers some surprisingly thoughtful material, while criticizing both sides of the debate.
Several times throughout the film, as Abbie walks in to her Planned Parenthood clinic, we see pro-lifers behind the property's fence holding up signs, shouting and condemning both her and patients seeking abortions, yelling statements like "Baby murderers!" and guilt-tripping the already emotionally-torn young women exiting their vehicles. Only one couple, Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts) and Shawn (Jared Lotz) is seen acting with more compassion, simply wanting to talk with Abbie about her work and the young women about the life-changing decisions they're about to make.
The fence here, while physical, serves as a metaphor for the boundary that continually separates pro-lifers from pro-choicers, each side believing they're in the right. Despite its overt pro-life message, the film smartly condemns the actions of those pro-lifers on the outside of the fence, stating that no progress in this debate will be made by large signs, shouting, and guilt-tripping. Instead, it postulates that the only way progress can be made is if the pro-life movement does the very thing it believes in--treating others as human beings. Only by taking the time to actually get to know the young woman and her unique situation and by offering help, not forcing it, can the possibility of change and healing occur.
Unplanned is heavy-handed at times, and, as independent films of this nature tend to go, it suffers occasionally from weak writing and performances. There are some directorial choices that worked well, like some shots showcasing the uniqueness of an individual like their handprint or footprint, but most were sadly underutilized. That said, the film's power comes from its timely message of enacting change by treating others as human beings, just as you want the fetus to be treated as such. While it certainly takes the pro-life stance, it surprisingly offers that the pro-life group isn't faultless either, and needs to improve its approach if its wants to achieve any kind of progression in the future. Finally, the film speaks to the power of experience through Abbie's life--only by seeing firsthand what actually happens during an abortion procedure and how the fetus reacts does she change her mentality. Likewise, Unplanned attempts to do the same for the audience through the powerful medium of film, and it largely succeeds.
Written by Anthony Watkins, April 22, 2019