MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Film critic Roger Ebert once famously described movies as “empathy machines”. That is worth remembering whenever you watch a film that is about characters or experiences that take place outside of your customary comfort zone.
Rarely Never Sometimes Always and Unpregnant are two films that were released this year and share the same basic premise: A teenager with an unwanted pregnancy is accompanied by a friend on an out-of-state trip for an abortion. In both cases their parents are kept out of the conversation (since the procedure requires parental consent). Controversy has always been a companion in conversations about abortion and these films are no exception to that rule. Both movies refuse to pass moral judgements on the two girls; in addition, there is a critique of Christianity’s inability to be of much help.
Both of these films were directed and written by women (Unpregnant is based on a YA novel) and feature strong lead actors.
Let’s compare the two movies:
Rarely Never Sometimes Always. Autumn (Flanigan) and her cousin Skylar (Rider) leave rural Pennsylvania to go to New York City for an abortion at a Planned Parenthood Clinic. Prior to their trip out of town by train, Autumn seeks help at a pregnancy counseling center and receives compassionate advice inclined to have her bring the child to term. As the two young women deal with men at work and on the street, they face objectification and peril along the way. There is hardly a minute of this film that is not filled with unease and dread, but Autumn and Skylar’s love for one another gives them the power to journey on. This is one of the year’s best films.
Unpregnant. Veronica (Richardson) thinks that she and her boyfriend (Alex MacNicoll) are having protected sex but learns after the fact that he did not tell her about a broken condom. He is totally willing to get married and become a young father, but she is not willing to give up her future so soon. Veronica and her childhood friend Bailey (Ferreira) have drifted apart since the beginning of high school, but Bailey’s awareness of the situation combined with the availability of a car gets them on the road from Oklahoma to New Mexico (with an adventure at every stop) in a race against the clock to make it to the clinic on time. Christianity is played for laughs when they have to flee from a Pro-Life family that wants to intervene.
Both films depict abortion with seriousness, but only Rarely Never Sometimes Always deals honestly with the pain and price of making that decision - in a stunning scene at the clinic in which Autumn answers an intake questionnaire. (The interviewer is played by an actual Planned Parenthood staff person using their standard inquiry tool.) Unpregnant is primarily interested in making us laugh and falls short of making much of a statement.
While neither of these films would be warmly received by most United Methodist youth groups, I would hope that parents might consider viewing them with their youth at home. If I were a parent of teens I would want to have a conversation in which I could bring Christian values into the conversation. But most of all, I would want to have an opportunity to listen to my kids and hear what they have to say.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Rarely Never Sometimes Always
Four halos: A compassionate film about two teenage cousins on a harrowing journey for an out-of-state abortion.
Three pitchforks: Occasional strong swearing; teen beer drinking; one scene of implied male masturbation; a scene in a Christian counseling service; an intake interview and a scene at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Two halos: Two former BFFs on a wacky road trip to an out-of-state abortion clinic.
Three pitchforks: One non-graphic scene of teen sex; mild swearing with one F-bomb; cartoon violence; a scene in an abortion clinic; scenes of teen drinking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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