“UNPLANNED” — 3 stars — Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan, Robia Scott; R (some disturbing/bloody images); in general release; running time: 106 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — “Unplanned” may not bridge the divide between the different sides of the abortion issue, but it will provide some food for thought for the undecideds — assuming there are any left.
Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon’s film is based on the true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who left the organization to become a pro-life activist.
“Unplanned” opens with a jarring sequence — particularly for a film in the faith-based genre. Abby (Ashley Bratcher) is a wife and a mother who also happens to be the director for the local Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. At work, she gets called away from her office to provide emergency assistance with a procedure. It is her first time witnessing an actual abortion, and it is horrifying.
Flash back eight years, and Abby fills in her story. In school at Texas A&M, she is recruited to be a Planned Parenthood volunteer. While unsure about her feelings regarding abortion, she concludes that promoting the use of birth control will reduce the unplanned pregnancies that can lead to abortion.
The journey forward is filled with conflict, in part because Abby has had two abortions herself. We follow her story as she gets in and out of a bad marriage before finding her eventual husband Doug (Brooks Ryan) — who marries her in spite of his strong pro-life stance. In the meantime she gets more and more involved with the local clinic, rising to the level of counselor before being promoted as the youngest clinic director ever for Planned Parenthood.
Along the way, though, Abby becomes more and more uneasy with corporate policy, which seems more interested in promoting abortion than she was led to believe. She also becomes sympathetic to the protesters who gather outside the clinic gates to dissuade patients.
Eventually, Abby’s supervisor Cheryl (Robia Scott) puts the situation in simple terms: Fast food restaurants break even on selling hamburgers and make their profits on French fries and drinks. “Abortion is our fries and soda,” she explains.
This all brings us to the film’s opening sequence, which serves as Abby’s point of reckoning. “Unplanned’s” story doesn’t build tension around the question of whether Abby will leave so much as when she will leave, and what will happen as a result.
“Unplanned” has some strong points and some weak points, and as emotionally loaded and polarizing as its subject matter is, the film is unlikely to persuade audiences locked in on either side of the abortion issue. Rather, “Unplanned” feels more like a piece of advocacy, designed to portray the horrors of abortion in general but to condemn Planned Parenthood specifically.
Bratcher is strong in the lead role and does a good job of portraying a character torn by both sides of a complicated issue. The various supporting characters tend to be a little more two-dimensional, especially the villainous Cheryl as the film’s de facto antagonist — essentially Planned Parenthood in human form. While the organization in question doesn’t get much of an opportunity to defend itself, “Unplanned” does try to acknowledge the problem of various pro-life extremists, even singling out the murder of doctor George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions, as a specific example.
While the script suffers from some clunky expository dialogue — and some moments that feel more melodramatic than necessary — audiences will be most affected by the abortion scenes themselves, which are almost exclusively responsible for the film’s R rating. While never quite as graphic as the fetal images often seen in protests (“Unplanned” actually subtly condemns the practice), the sequences are very disturbing — particularly the opening scene where Abby watches the abortion on ultrasound.10 comments on this story
As a film, “Unplanned” has room for praise and criticism. But movies like this tend to be judged more on their messages than their production quality, and in this case, most audiences will likely enter with their minds made up. “Unplanned” doesn’t come close to exploring all of the different combating arguments connected to abortion, but the case it makes is sobering to consider.
Rating explained: “Unplanned” is rated R due to the graphic and disturbing nature of its abortion scenes (mostly in the form of blood), as well as some mild profanity.