Critics’ responses to the movie Unplanned — the latest project from the Christian film company Pure Flix about the baby-killing butcher shop known as Planned Parenthood — are pretty much exactly what you’d expect: They hate it because it’s a bad movie.
It has a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with critics saying the film is “strictly set up to rally its base” and contains “mediocre production values and subpar performances.”
But conservative Christians — the film’s only real intended audience — are hailing it as a cinematic masterpiece. (Focus on the Family’s “Plugged In” site puts Unplanned in the same “emotional wallop” category as Schindler’s List.) Then again, when your basis for comparison is a movie like God’s Not Dead, everything you watch must seem mind-blowing.
When it comes down to it, the two groups have radically different ideas about what makes a movie “good.” The professionals care about an original plot, character development, quality acting, clever dialogue, etc. For them, Unplanned has none of those qualities that make a movie memorable, let alone worth the cost of the ticket.
The conservative Christians only seem to care about how conservative and Christian it is. And if that means creating a straw man out of an organization that provides healthcare to thousands of low-income women (often saving their lives), so be it.
Here’s just a sampling of what the critics are saying.
From the Daily Beast:
Based on its subject’s memoir of the same name, Unplanned tells the tale of Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher), a Texas woman whom we first meet working as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Called in to assist with an abortion, Abby is horrified by what she witnesses: the sonogram sight of the fetus, resembling a fully formed infant, writhing about in desperate agony and trying to cling to her mother’s uterus as it’s sucked out of the womb by a callous doctor.
Abby, as it turns out, had two abortions herself as a young woman, both the result of a bad marriage to a bum who eventually cheated on her. The first abortion, done surgically, is a haunting ordeal that ends with her recovering alongside other miserable patients (with only a few crackers to eat!). The second is via RU486 (aka “The Abortion Pill”).
The person responsible for Abby’s RU486 misery is Renee (Tina Toner), an employee who flippantly lies about how bad the experience will be while counting cash, and later responds to Abby’s phone-call complaints by hanging up on her. Would you be surprised to learn that this right-wing film — replete with a late cameo from My Pillow founder and Trump acolyte Michael J. Lindell — presents the heartless, duplicitous Renee as a short-haired wise-ass, thereby coding her as a lesbian? Or that Cheryl advises Abby against carrying her own pregnancy to term (“I can take care of that for you,” she smirks), while Abby’s mother chides her for having “aspirations” (a negative conflation of pro-choice beliefs and female careerism)? Or that, aside from a few fleeting nutjobs, Unplanned’s anti-abortion characters are wholesome, funny, non-confrontational prayer zealots? Of course not, because Unplannedis a brazen conservative screed.
Abby is drawn to Planned Parenthood at a college recruitment drive for its women’s health services. (“We discovered someone has cancer today!” is a weirdly cheery line in this film.) Of course, once part of the machinery, Abby learns the awful truth. “Non-profit is a tax status, not a business model!” she is scolded. We also get a convoluted lesson in weird economics. “Fast-food outlets break even on their hamburgers. The french fries and soda are the low-cost, high-margin items. Abortion is our fries and soda!” If Abby wants to keep her 401K and health benefits, she’s gotta keep the abortions coming at all costs!
“Unplanned” isn’t a good movie, but it’s effective propaganda — or, at least, it is if you belong to the group it’s targeting: those who believe that abortion in America, though a legal right, is really a crime. It’s hard to imagine the movie drawing many viewers outside that self-selected demographic. “Unplanned” preaches to the pro-life choir, and it does so by making a case against abortion that’s absolutist and extreme, at certain points twisting “facts” into a narrative of conspiracy. (Planned Parenthood is portrayed as a corporation as profit-driven as Standard Oil.)
“Unplanned” comes along at a moment when the Supreme Court is tilted, for the first time since the ’60s, in a profoundly conservative direction, and when abortion laws are being eaten away at by state legislatures and conservative judges. The movie comes on like it’s trying to make converts, but what it’s really doing is mobilizing those on the pro-life side to come out and vote for politicians who will step up the legal assault on abortion rights. The movie fuses melodramatic manipulation and cold calculation. It may look like it’s preaching, but it’s really campaigning.
In a film like this, nuance is important. Of all the reviews I read, none addressed any part of the film that explores why women seek abortions. Instead, they are painted as one-dimensional villains who all want to avoid parenthood for their own selfish reasons.
The reality is more complex than that: Poverty, domestic violence, unaffordable healthcare, unpaid maternity leave (or none at all), and stigmas against single mothers are just a few of the reasons why motherhood is an extreme difficulty, if not an outright possibility, for women all over the globe. In many cases, women opt for abortion in order to be better parents to the children they already have. But Unplanned doesn’t want to give those women any sympathy; it just wants to paint them all with the same blood-stained brush.
That’s a shame, because this country could really use a film that’s committed to exploring this issue with the delicate complexity it deserves. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem like viewers are given any kind of information about what actually works to prevent abortions: comprehensive sex education, for one, as well as affordable birth control, which — shockingly — you can get at Planned Parenthood.
Why would an organization that considers abortion its “fries and soda” work so hard to ensure that sexually active people are equipped with measures to prevent pregnancy? It’s almost like the film lied to push its message across. And viewers who lack critical thinking skills are swallowing it up.