[Screen It]


(2019) (Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan) (R)

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Drama: With eight years under her belt working for Planned Parenthood including as a clinic director, a woman has an awakening upon witnessing an abortion in person while also learning that her company is more about making money than helping women in need.
Abby Johnson (ASHLEY BRATCHER) is the clinic director of a Planned Parenthood center in a small city outside of Houston where she lives with her husband, Doug (BROOKS RYAN), and their young daughter, Grace (ANDEE GRACE BURTON). When she's called back to help run the ultrasound for an abortion that's to be performed, she's shocked to see the fetus react to the suction probe before being sucked from the womb. The story then flashes back eight years to when Abby is a college student who ends up recruited to be a volunteer at that same clinic. It's run at that time by the all-business Cheryl (ROBIA SCOTT) who's used to having to deal with pro-life protestors such as Marilisa (EMMA ELLE ROBERTS) from the Coalition for Life.

Undeterred by them and having had an abortion herself there in the past before her first marriage (that ended in divorce), Abby takes a job at the clinic working as a counselor, much to the chagrin of her pro-life parents, Kathleen (ROBIN DEMARCO) and Mike (ROBERT THOMASON), and then-boyfriend Doug. Working alongside staffers Megan (MAURA CORSINI) and Taylor (LEZL GONZALES) who also become her friends, she acts as an abortion counselor, eventually drawing the attention of another anti-abortion protestor, Shawn (JARED LOTZ), who's joined by Marilisa in running the pro-life organization, 40 Days for Life.

With Abby eventually replacing Cheryl at the clinic director, she finds herself ever-increasingly doing hard sells for abortions. But when she witnesses one of them firsthand and then sees that Planned Parenthood is all about making money by performing more abortions, she has a crisis of conscience and ends up at a crossroads in her life where she must decide what to do.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
While it's certainly not a hard and fast rule of storytelling, and there are certainly exceptions, most movie protagonists go through some sort of change over the course of their time on the screen in front of us. And that's because they embark on or are led through a journey that challenges them in some way. You know, very much like life does out in the real world.

People naturally evolve over time -- especially as they grow up -- but even once they've become set in their ways -- their chosen profession, beliefs and so on -- sometimes something comes along that upsets their apple cart and causes them to rethink their lives. And such a challenge to their status quo can arrive either as one big revelatory moment or can be of the slow drip variety where it just builds and builds until the dam breaks.

I'm not familiar with the real-life story of Abby Johnson, but as presented in the anti-abortion film "Unplanned," it comes at her character in both ways. For those not familiar with her, she was once a rising employee in Planned Parenthood, reportedly the youngest clinic director ever and over the course of nearly a decade she reportedly helped facilitate tens of thousands of abortions.

But when she was asked one day to help with one such procedure, what she witnessed on the sonogram monitor horrified her to the point that she quit what she thought was her life calling -- helping women in need -- and switched over to the other side and became a pro-life advocate. Talk about a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree swing.

In the film, she's played by Ashley Bratcher and when we first see her, she's already firmly entrenched in the organization when that call for procedural help occurs. And once we see her distressed reaction, the film -- based on Johnson's 2011 memoir (which, along with some of her public statements about Planned Parenthood have been disputed by that organization, so who knows who is telling the truth) -- flashes back to eight years earlier.

Then, she's a college student, has her own abortion the traditional way and then another via the RU486 pill, and joins the organization, much to the concern and disapproval not only of her pro-life parents (Robin Demarco and Robert Thomason), but also her pro-life boyfriend (Brooks Ryan). Undeterred, by that or having to deal with anti-abortion protestors such as Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts) and Shawn (Jared Lotz) from the Coalition for Life (that then became 40 Days for Life), she goes from volunteer at the clinic to counselor to the director.

The latter occurs when she replaces her predecessor (Robia Scott) who's portrayed as such a one-dimensional, profit-driven villain that I'm surprised her name isn't Cruella. Eventually, the corporate push to make more money by performing more abortions, coupled with the aforementioned witnessing of an abortion causes Abby to jump ship, side with the "enemy," and eventually face the wrath of "one of the most powerful organizations on the planet."

Yeah, that last statement is just a bit of hyperbole. That and the third act's preaching and stilted placement of dialogue, talking points (for viewers to use later) and disputable facts, awkward and obvious name dropping of famously rich pro-choice donors and plenty more (including a legal battle that's rushed through) becomes more than a bit heavy-handed. Which is a shame because until then, it decently balances -- for the most part -- both sides of the issue.

And despite being forced to deliver a lot of voice-over narration -- that's sloppy on the part of co-writers/directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman in that they're breaking the storytelling rule of telling us things rather than showing us -- Bratcher is good in the lead role. She delivers a believable performance of a woman having her beliefs challenged and ultimately facing a crisis of conscience.

So, notwithstanding that voice-over narration, two-thirds of the movie is decent until all involved can't hold it in any longer and go off the rails in their demonizing and preaching. Yes, the choir that's come to see this will eat it up, but if the goal of the film is to change hearts and minds like its protagonist, it's not going to happen once the piling on and exaggerated vilification get a full head of steam and then steamroll toward the conclusion. Had the filmmakers and their film stayed on their original even-keeled course, this would have scored higher. As it stands, "Unplanned" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 27, 2019 / Posted March 29, 2019

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