Unplanned plays like an impassioned jeremiad, feverishly pitched toward the contented faces in the choir. The congregation and the unconverted be damned, this movie angles itself to alienate anyone but the fiercest of believers. If anything, Unplanned‘s complete lack of skill and nuance will only strengthen the resolve of its opposition. I’ll give the filmmakers a few points for exploring the ferociously complex and highly sensitive issue of abortion. Unfortunately, those are the only points I’ll give them.
The story derives from real events, I guess. Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher), a perky college senior with a mile-wide smile, spots a Planned Parenthood booth at a job fair and accepts an invitation to volunteer at one of their clinics. Abby’s a touch on the naïve side, and she only realizes how cold and deep the water she’s waded into is on her first day at work. Protesters clamor at the iron gates of the clinic, barking insults at the staff and intimidating the trembling teenage girls as they exit their cars. Thankfully, Abby also meets a few friendly enemies: Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts) and her peaceful clique of protesters seem plucked right out of a Baptist version of an Old Navy commercial. They’re prim and proper preppies who sit in simple, silent prayer. Marilisa greets Abby with unfailing suburban benevolence because she knows that, deep down, Abby is really one of them.
Meanwhile, Abby’s clinic colleagues run the spectrum of one-dimensional villainy. The doctors who perform the abortions are smug and insulting, and they offer flippant commentary during the grisly procedures. Abby’s staff gets portrayed as gibbering examples of ignorance and vapidity. They squawk banal dialogue in scene after endless scene. Finally, Abby’s regional director (Robia Scott) is so howlingly, heinously over-the-top, she makes Cruella de Vil look subtle by comparison.
The nexus of all this plot lies in the scene where Abby witnesses an abortion in excruciating detail. The movie flashes back and forward, using this point as an anchor. In her earlier years, Abby recalls undergoing two abortions, laying them, she notes curtly, at the “altar of convenience.” These procedures are also depicted with full blood and gore, as is another scene where a girl suffers a perforated uterus. All this disappointment and disillusionment inspires Abby to resign from her position and take the anti-abortion banner into battle. Soon, Planned Parenthood goes full chaotic evil in its attempt to tear Abby and her lunkheaded husband (Brooks Ryan, who has a bright future if Tim Tebow ever needs a cardboard stand-in) to shreds.
Unplanned just goes on and on, like a holy rollercoaster from which I can’t wait to exit. All this preaching and piety eventually wore me down to a nubbin, especially after the movie makes its point in the first ten minutes. This feels less condescending and sanctimonious than anything Kirk Cameron has ever done, but that’s a low bar. Bratcher delivers a decent performance, meaning she can either be bubbly or bawling if the scene requires it. All the other actors are wooden or sing in one note. The dialogue is aggressively atrocious, with much of it just stilted factoids that feel lifted straight from the pamphlets. Unplanned is a strange cinematic sermon that seems both emotionally charged and completely hollow at the same time.
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