Saturday, April 6, 2019

In Theaters Now: Unplanned

Unplanned (2019)
This film was birthed, as it were, in controversy. Unplanned tells the story of Abby Johnson, the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who became a pro-life activist. Produced by Pure Flix, a company known for Christian, family entertainment, this was their first R-rated film -- which is part of the controversy. Pure Flix hadn't expected the R rating. Radio and television stations wouldn't accept advertising for the film. Twitter temporarily suspended the film's account. TV talk show host Samantha Bee urged her viewers not to see the film.

Unplanned is based on the true story of Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood clinic director who was won over to the pro-life movement -- which explains the controversy. Abortion continues to be on of the most contentious issue in American society and politics, and in its opening minutes, the film portrays a very graphic depiction of abortion (the reason for the R rating and why many choose to keep a distance from this film.) I suspect that the rating and this graphic scene are why this Christian film, unlike most these days, features no fading TV or movie stars. No Lee Majors or Faye Dunaway. Not even Corbin Bernsen. There don't seem to be many Christian films these days without Bernsen.

LIke most Pure Flix products, this is not a subtle film. Johnson’s boss in the film, Cheryl (Robia Scott, who played Jenny Calendar on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is the closest thing to a star in the film), would be twisting her mustache if she had one -- she's completely cruel and heartless. The directors of the local branch of Coalition for Life, Doug (Brooks Ryan) and Marilisa (Emma Elle Roberts), are compassionate and without guile. 

I was impressed with the depiction of Abby (Ashley Bratcher). She joins Planned Parenthood out of a concern for the good of women, and the film, based on her book, show her flaws along with strengths. She lies to her child about her work. She makes compromises when she shouldn’t and takes a hard line when it isn’t wise. And this may seem like a small thing, but we see Abby having a glass of wine with her husband and talking about seeing an R rated films. Not typical behavior in a Christian film. The film has the weaknesses inherent in most Christian films (especially from Pure Flix), but Johnson’s story is compelling and worth telling.

But we aren’t here to make a political statement at Movie Churches. We’re here to look at how churches and clergy are depicted in films. 

The film isn't a story of Abby Johnson who becomes a Christian. Johnson was raised in a Christian home and remained true to her faith. Though her first marriage (the wedding was in a church) was to a jerk who wasn't a Christian (not that Christians aren't sometimes jerks), her second husband is a Christian and a good guy. And throughout her time working in Planned Parenthood, they attend what seems to be an evangelical church where she feels comfortable. (In one church scene, though, Johnson seems uncomfortable. The pastor reads from Psalm 139 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”) 

Abby's not the only person at the clinic who goes to church. Another woman who works there was angered when the priest at her Catholic Church preached about the evil of abortion. Both churches seem to be willing to take difficult cultural stands, and yet show compassion to those who disagree.

There is another tragic reference to a church in the film. While still a director at Planned Parenthood, Abby hears the news of the murder of Dr. George Tiller. One of the few practitioners of late-term abortions, the doctor was shot and killed while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church.

So the actual churches come across quite well in the film. And Coalition for Life, as a parachurch organization, comes across quite well too, particularly in their dedication to prayer at the gates of the clinic. But some of the pro-life protestors at Johnson’s clinic aren't in the least admirable as they yell at women who enter the clinic that they “should have kept their knees together.” Their awfulness brings our Movie Churches rating from 4 steeples down to 3.

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