Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher) starts as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood (PP) and becomes the youngest clinic director in the organization’s history until a fateful day when she witnesses an abortion firsthand without the cloud of heavy medication dampening her senses. In the wake of her horror, she questions what she has been working and fighting for.
Based on a true story documented in the memoir of the same name by the real Abby, Unplanned is essentially her biopic. While it sure has a story, it’s a story in search of a plot. The movie covers her crisis of conscience, her two abortions, her exodus from PP, and sweeps her fight in court against them aside like nothing in the final act. The writer-director team of Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (the men behind the God’s Not Dead trilogy) are content with throwing as much in as they can when they could’ve focused on one thing.
Lead actress Ashley Bratcher provides a firm center unfortunately saddled with paper-thin supporting characters, especially that husband of hers (played by Brooks Ryan) who has the charisma of cardboard. She is able to deliver in pivotal moments (a literally bloody shower scene being one).
A certified geek (who drinks) and an actor of stage and screen with faith, Kaiser Johnson is the last name listed in the opening credits. You have to wait an hour and a half for him to make his appearance, but when he does everything gets 50 percent better. Kaiser plays the lawyer who, with a wink and a smile, solves Abby Johnson’s legal issues with Planned Parenthood in the span of a cup of coffee.
On the scene for several years, his combination of cool and charm will make you wish Marvel, DC, or a sharp showrunner such as Joss Whedon discovered the guy long ago. He would fit well into the mold of Buffy’s Scooby Gang or a spirited superteam — e.g., X-Men, Avengers, or the Fantastic Four. His performance in this film could be his audition for Longshot or Gambit (whenever Disney incorporates X-Men characters) or the new Johnny Storm.
For a pro-life movie, I was astounded by how nonchalant Unplanned was about the issue. There are a handful of graphic scenes — slapping a bogus R rating on this one — but outside them, scenes are bright and too clean for the topic and the message they want to send. A moment here or there might make you flinch although not in the way Cronenberg, David Lynch, or French New Extremity will.
Other indies about abortion such as Cider House Rules and Vera Drake, although on the other side of the fence, keep their color schemes and moods fairly consistent and solemn. Pure Flix only seems to know how to do Pure Flix.
The bigger problem is the pat rhetoric. Abortion might be complex, or it might not be so complex, but the intellectual bar is lowered to the level of talking points that dip their toe and don’t swim for the deep end. If you want a movie on abortion that’s uncompromising and dialectical, you’ll do much better with Lake of Fire (2007, by the director of American History X) — and probably never get it out of your head.
Unplanned does a few things to set itself apart but it can’t shake the voice or sensibility of a Pure Flix film. Hence, it fails to pack the punch it wants to have.
- Star Ashley Bratcher.
- Kaiser Johnson.
- The few scenes of blood and baby parts are adequately unsettling.
- Bad acting.
- Thinly written supporting characters.
- Too bright and bubbly to be taken seriously.