Courtesy of Pure Flix
Far right, Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher) talks with her clinic employees in a scene from “Unplanned.
Suckered into a cheap snack upgrade, I soon realized my huge bucket of popcorn had been a mistake. “Unplanned” is not a popcorn movie.
However, it is a good and challenging one, kept from cinematic greatness by an at times distracting voiceover, weak characterization of several supporting characters, and a mediocre soundtrack.
The film adapts a 2011 memoir by former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson who had a change of heart about abortion, and it doesn’t flinch at its serious source material, though attendees might.
The film received an R rating for “disturbing/bloody images,” such as its sanitary depiction of an ultrasound-guided abortion. The doctor in the scene is portrayed by Anthony Levatino, a real life obstetrician-gynecologist who has performed about 1,200 abortions and has publicly vouched for the scene’s accuracy.
The novelty of glimpsing life inside a Planned Parenthood clinic is one of the natural strengths of the tale. If not for the film’s voiceover, one could mistake portions of the film as a celebration of the mission of Planned Parenthood amid the imperfect realities of clinical abortion beyond the rhetoric.
Rather than vilified, Planned Parenthood employees are shown as sincerely idealistic and committed — with one cold and cynical exception, Johnson’s superior “Cheryl” (Robia Scott of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). More nuance with her and several seemingly saintly anti-abortion characters could have strengthened the drama. However highlights of the ugly side of the anti-abortion movement somewhat balance the tale until the final portion.
The last part of the film involves the fallout of Johnson’s turnabout on the morality of abortion. For those who agree, it is a triumphant and long-awaited conclusion, but naysayers may have an opposite reaction.
Actress Ashley Bratcher, who starred in the 2015 “War Room,” carries the film with her strong and affective portrayal of Johnson through the ups and downs of her relationship with Planned Parenthood. An attorney character offers welcome humor in the penultimate act.
Directed by Chuck Konzelman and Corey Solomon, writers of “God’s Not Dead,” the film wears it’s faith-based heart on its sleeve, arguably to a fault. A frequent voiceover from the perspective of a post-conversion Johnson distracts at times from the intrinsic drama of some scenes and reduces their emotional impact. The soundtrack of the movie is also weak and, for me, mentally dissonant; the vague lyrics of generic Christian songs fit poorly with some scenes.
The filmmakers admittedly had slim pickings however. Most attempts to license popular music for the film were rejected, according to “Unplanned” music supervisor Blake Kanicka. Not only did six major music publishers say no — including Disney, Sony and Universal — but so did many faith-based bands.
The movie faced a media blackout as well, with all solicited major networks but Fox refusing to air commercials promoting it. Yet “Unplanned” ranked in the top four in its opening weekend despite only showing on a fraction of screens as its rivals. The theater was packed at Edwards 21 in Fresno on opening weekend.
In film industry terms, the movie “overperformed,” and that would be my assessment as well. “Unplanned” is a moving tale of a real crisis of conscience within Planned Parenthood. I recommend “Unplanned” to teens and up.