The new movie “Unplanned” was not expected to be a success. An array of factors weighed against its gaining an audience: the refusal by all but one of the major networks to accept its advertising, an R rating which few faith-based films have garnered and none would desire. Lastly, its subjects: abortion and Planned Parenthood.
On its opening weekend, Twitter also shuttered its account briefly.
But, both locally and nationally, the movie has set records. Anchor Point, which supports a crisis pregnancy center for north and mid-county sponsored the premiere showing last week at Webster’s Cinemark 18.
“We sold out our first two theaters and then added a third theater and sold it out as well,” said Kelly King, Anchor’s publicist. “The feedback was incredible and we already have seen tremendous heart changes from those that attended the movie. God is so good.”
Nationally, the box office results from last weekend’s launch put it well ahead of most faith-based films. At this writing, its box office score included $12.5 million in ticket sales in over 1500 theaters in the U.S.
Our Faith interviewed Houstonian Shawn Carney, founder and CEO of 40 Days for Life. Carney is portrayed by newcomer Jared Lotz on the big screen. In one memorable scene, Carney’s character is shown praying, his extended hand covering a blue, 55-gallon drum of biological waste outside the Bryan, Texas abortion clinic.
He offered his take on the movie’s success.
“‘Unplanned’ has not only shocked Hollywood by doubling the box office expectation with a $6 million opening weekend, it has elevated the abortion debate in America to a whole new level because of the two abortions depicted in the movie,” he said.
“My story isn’t an easy one to hear,” the Abby Johnson character, portrayed by Ashley Bratcher (“War Room”) says as the movie begins. “I should probably warn you about that.”
Johnson was a Planned Parenthood clinic director until a pivotal event turned her into a pro-life activist and speaker. She has also had two abortions herself.
“My mission is simple,” Johnson writes on her website. “We’re in the fight for life because we’re pro-love. We see that every life, from the child in the womb to the elderly, has incredible worth.”
And her on-screen warning is well-placed. After just five minutes of mundane home life at the Johnson household, the movie plunges into its most disturbing and possibly most effective scene when Johnson is called to help out in with a very graphic abortion procedure, the source of its R rating. This is where the political boundaries—and the moral ones—will polarize around Johnson’s message.
Nationally, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his personal support.
“So good to see movie theaters across the country showing ‘Unplanned’—a deeply inspiring new pro-life film based on the best-selling book by Abby Johnson,” Pence wrote. “More and more Americans are embracing the sanctity of life because of powerful stories like this one.”
Professional reviewers have been less kind. Rotten Tomatoes, the internet movie site that compiles the responses of both critics and audiences, found a large gap between the two on “Unplanned”: Only 50% of critics liked it, but 93% of viewers favored the film.
“I’ll never forget the day that Abby Johnson walked into my office and had a change of heart after witnessing, for the first time, an ultrasound guided abortion and seeing a 13-week old baby boy fight for his life and lose it,” Carney said when asked about the film’s success. “Everyone in Galveston should see ‘Unplanned’ whether you support abortion or not because it shows real life events that happened at the Houston abortion facility many women travel to for abortions. The mentality and operations of this abortion facility are on full display in ‘Unplanned’. The movie is accurate which makes it both hard to watch and inspiring.”
Our Faith received a screening copy of the movie. It was filmed in Stillwater, Oklahoma which makes a fair stand-in for Texas. It also includes news footage of Hurricane Ike hitting the island which figures into the narrative in an odd juxtaposition backgrounded by the upbeat Mandisa song, “Overcomer”.
Johnson had her first abortion in Houston, applying for her first credit card to cover the $500 cost of the procedure. She holds a psychology degree from Texas A&M, which was also Planned Parenthood’s initial point of recruitment for her and other students as volunteer escorts at the Bryan clinic.
The film’s production values are adequate as is the acting of the principal characters, but the producers are seeking to spread a message rather than questing for professional, industry awards.
“Unplanned” is a challenging movie to watch since it isn’t an entertainment vehicle, but a film with a strong message. Much of which is conveyed by graphic, even bloody images during four cringe-worthy scenes.
But, it can also be poignant. In a voiceover, Johnson’s character describes a secret baby shower for her that was held at the Planned facility after hours.
“Later that afternoon, after terminating 38 pregnancies,” she says. “We spent the next two hours celebrating my pregnancy with cake and flowers and baby gifts.”
Next week in Our Faith: Our annual preview of Easter services around the county.