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Haley Lu Richardson Shines In “Unpregnant,” Which Deftly Mixes Road Trip Comedy And Righteous Anger

It’s impossible to watch Haley Lu Richardson and not see that she’s a star in the making. She just has that “it factor” about her. In a fairly short period of time, she’s established herself as someone to really watch. Richardson is rarely given starring roles, so far at least, so the new release Unpregnant is a welcome tonic to that. Coming as one of the first original releases for streamer HBO Max, it’s a lovely mix of comedy and drama, utilizing some silly elements as a delivery system for an angry message about the state of female health in America. Unsurprisingly, it’s all very well done, anchored by Richardson in a role that should only increase her profile in Hollywood.

The film is a road trip comedy, with a bit of a twist, based on the novel by Ted Caplan and Jenni Hendriks. A 17-year old Missouri teenager named Veronica (Richardson) is in full panic mode after taking a pregnancy test one day at school. Veronica discovers she has accidentally gotten pregnant, which has her worried that her dreams are over, including college and a career. It doesn’t help that the test was found by her former best friend and current loaner Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), which has started a wave of people in school trying to figure out who it belongs to, led by her current clique of friends. Plus, her boyfriend Kevin (Alex MacNicoll) has decided to propose, upon hearing the news. Veronica, however, is determined to end the pregnancy, which is problematic in Missouri, since it requires parental permission. So, she plans to travel out of state, recruiting Bailey and her access to a car for help. Thus begins an adventure where the two can bond again, get in and out of trouble, and realize just how ridiculous it is that this isn’t a simple process for a young girl to undergo. Rachel Lee Goldenberg directs and co-writes with authors Caplan and Hendriks, as well as Jennifer Bill Parker and Kaytin Robinson. Doug Emmett provides the cinematography, while supporting players here include Sugar Lynn Beard, Giancarlo Esposito, Mary McCormack, Breckin Meyer, and more.

First and foremost, Haley Lu Richardson is phenomenal here. Her comedic chops are on full display, but it’s when she goes for drama that you really see the height of her talents. Barbie Ferreira hits the stranger comedy bits really well, but Richardson shines brightest. That being said, Ferreira and Richardson share excellent chemistry, making their re-evolving friendship feel very real. That’s essential to the movie’s effectiveness, too, since large portions of the second act center on just their interactions. Luckily, the script is witty enough, and the actresses are strong enough, to easily pull it off. Filmmaker Rachel Lee Goldenberg certainly cast her picture well, to say the least.

Unpregnant manages to mix comedic elements with more serious ones surprisingly easily. It’s certainly not the first dramedy to do this, but the way it never calls overt attention to its message is rather deft. Without the commentary, it would have been a little light, especially considering the nature of the story. The flick does run a little long, which Goldenberg could have tightened up, but it’s a relatively small complaint, since things need time to evolve.

Now available to watch on HBO Max, Unpregnant is likely to make you laugh and smile, but also make you angry about reproductive health in the United States. That’s the intent, too, so this is an undisputed success story. Give it a look and you’ll see why. Along with An American Pickle, this represents an excellent start to HBO Max and their film releases…

Be sure to check out Unpregnant, streaming right now on HBO Max!

(Photos courtesy of HBO Max)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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