VARIETY – To tackle abortion through the lens of a road trip comedy required a sense of grace and wit from the cast and crew of “Unpregnant.” In finding this balance, director and co-writer Rachel Lee Goldenberg had a single guiding mission.
“My goal from the beginning, and still is, it’s just that I just want to normalize and de-stigmatize abortion,” Goldenberg told editor Jenelle Riley in the Variety Streaming Room presented by HBO Max. “I want people to be able to say the word, I want people to know that they can talk about it and that their friends can talk about it and that most Americans support abortion and that that fact is purposely hidden.”
“Unpregnant” sees estranged high school students Veronica and Bailey rekindle their friendship to drive from Missouri to New Mexico so Veronica can get an abortion at a clinic that provides the service without her parents’ mission.
“When we were doing the scene, actually driving into the clinic and all those extras were there protesting and everything, that felt very real and intense,” Haley Lu Richardson said, who plays Veronica. “That actually shocked me in my core.”
Not all moments in the movie are so heavy, particularly thanks to Barbie Ferreira’s Bailey, an emo zoomer distinguished by a shock of green hair. Her dry sense of humor invigorates “Unpregnant,” but its also a method of deflection so that she doesn’t have to deal with her feelings.
“I feel like if I get myself to a place where I’m ready to be emotional, for me, it takes time and intention. I can’t just turn it on,” Ferreira said. “I like to just watch like mindless reality TV, and try to just like go to sleep really early and wake up and have a fresh new day, because it’s hard to get out of that.”
The buddy comedy finds a sweet spot in unveiling absurdity of reality, such as when Veronica points out the backward logic in teens being able to “birth a human child,” but needing parental consent for an abortion.
“There’s so much inherent comedy and in life,” Goldenberg said. “The guiding principle when people in bad faith have said, ‘oh, this, this movie thinks abortion is funny.’ It’s like, we’re never making jokes about abortion. All the jokes are coming from why is it so hard to get this abortion? Like why is this journey so hard? And so that really frees us to let inherent humor.”