In the 2012 movie “Lincoln,” we gladly excused the president’s unsavory tactics as he worked to outlaw slavery -- because we knew that this goal was worth almost any price.
I dare say that’s how pro-lifers feel about their abortion battle. And since I’m squarely in that camp, I don’t care a fig about the few flaws in “Unplanned,” which tells the true story of Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood worker who swiftly and decisively jumped ship after she watched a squirming baby get sucked out through a vacuum tube.
And honestly, I don’t think the film has that many problems anyway.
These would include some weak dialog and an absurdly heartless Planned Parenthood boss; plus, the movie overplays its hand toward the end. Yet on the whole, “Unplanned” avoids the potholes that often cripple such agenda-driven, faith-based films.
And “Unplanned” certainly has an agenda. Rarely tepid, tedious or tame, the film firmly frontlines abortion’s unseen horrors, including some in-clinic mishaps and the painful, bloody aftermath to Abby’s own use of an abortion-inducing drug. (This scene deservedly earned the film its somewhat controversial R rating, though the movie’s other content is mild.)
That early abortion was one of two pregnancies Johnson ended before joining a busy clinic in Texas, where she later won Employee of the Year from Planned Parenthood. It really is an incredible story -- particularly her spouse’s ongoing support despite his personal opposition to her work. That marriage makes a terrific role model in today’s political climate, where even friends can spew vitriolic hatred when they don’t see eye to eye on certain issues.
“Unplanned” rides on a number of solid performances, especially Ashley Braxton’s soul-searching work as Johnson; there isn’t a false note anywhere in her many scenes, and Abby’s crying jags are shockingly real and raw. Brooks Ryan also excels as Ashley’s husband, and I loved the young actress playing a frightened woman whom Johnson talks out of an abortion near the end.
One other codicil: In addition to the flaws mentioned above, many Christians who flock to this film will be disappointed by the scene in which Abby asks her husband how God can forgive her for helping to kill more than 22,000 babies; this would be the perfect moment to talk about the infinite grace available through an infinite savior -- a unique bulwark of New Testament teaching; but all Doug says is, “Because He’s God” -- a response that feels woefully vague and insufficient.
Only half of nationwide critics liked “Unplanned,” versus 93% of regular viewers; and the vast majority of IMDb users gave it an 8, 9 or 10. It’s a skilled and often devastating film -- even if it’s unlikely to be seen by folks most in need of its potent message.
directed by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon
Run time: 106 min.
* * * 1/2 (out of four)