Movie Review: Can Unplanned Reach All Audiences?

PureFlix presents a case for pro-life stances but undercuts pro-choice ideas with sloppy writing and a lack of sensitivity.

Abortion is a largely off-screen procedure. Very few movies candidly show an abortion on-screen, but “Unplanned” does with horrific brutality that forces the viewer to reckon with the filmmaker’s intentions.

“Unplanned” is based on the memoir by Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion activist who resigned as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic after assisting a surgeon performing an abortion.

Johnson’s story is filled with conflict and convictions. In the hands of a filmmaker with a solid understanding of nuance and sensitivity, her story has the potential for an interesting and complex film.

But “Unplanned” is far from interesting or complex. As the project of a production company that is blatantly ideological, Pure Flix’s latest movie is gratuitous, one-dimensional and threatens its own message with lazy arguments.

Throughout the film, Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher) interacts with her anti-abortion husband (Brooks Ryan) her coworkers at the clinic, her extremely conniving boss Cheryl (Robia Scott) and anti-abortion activists Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts) and Shawn (Jared Lotz).

These characters all support the film’s arguments against abortion, but none are granted the same nuance as Abby. Cheryl, in particular, is an incredibly poorly-written character and an affront to the intelligence of the audience. Scott’s performance as a cliche corporate villain arguing for abortion with strawman lines does a great disservice to the message the film attempts to relay.

 This is a movie for anti-abortion people to further entrench them in their already-held beliefs. I doubt any viewers who condone abortion will be convinced by this film because of the recklessness with which it portrays their arguments.

The movie starts out with Abby accurately saying that most of what Planned Parenthood does is preventative care in order to reduce the number of abortions. But the film entirely circumvents that fact by exclusively showcasing abortions at the clinic. A brief mention of birth control is all the audience hears with no mention of STI testing or cancer screening or any other preventative care measures that make up 85% of Planned Parenthood’s activity.

Another issue with tackling a topic as sensitive as abortion in film is tone. If a film is too heavy-handed or too blasé, audiences will not walk away with a better understanding of the issue. “Unplanned” has several scenes suffering from an inconsistent tone.  

One of the strangest scenes in the film is when the clinic has to perform over 30 abortions in one afternoon right before a hurricane hits. The scene unfolds as Christian singer Mandisa’s song “Overcomer” plays as if the movie forgot its purpose to condemn abortion for just one scene. Other scenes that directly portray an abortion are extremely graphic and brutal to watch. The ideology of the film is clear, but the tone misses the mark several times.

One question audiences have been asking about this film is the issue of its MPAA rating. “Unplanned” was rated R due to disturbing and bloody images. Pure Flix decided to make this a sticking point for their marketing team, accusing the MPAA of censoring the film from teenagers who would not be able to see the film without an adult.

“Unplanned” deserves the R rating. Three scenes in particular involve three separate abortion methods and are quite graphic in the way they are handled. According to the MPAA, you can have as much violence in a PG-13 movie as you want, but as soon as it is bloody or gory, it crosses into rated R territory.

But the fact that the filmmakers and Pure Flix are outraged over the rating when they had to have known the MPAA was going to give them an R rating considering the graphic content makes me suspicious. Does this movie exist to tell a story, or to create more controversy around an already controversial issue?

Viewers will have to judge for themselves whether the film was effective in the way it presents its anti-abortion message, but for me I found it lacking in sensitivity and nuance and would not consider it effective.

Gaebe is an Opinion Writer.

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