By Leah Greenblatt
September 09, 2020 at 07:35 PM EDT
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Ursula Coyote/HBO Max

The odds of two teen-abortion road-trip movies appearing in one lifetime — let alone just this year — seem vanishingly small; thankfully, there’s more than enough room for both the quiet revelations of Eliza Hittman’s Sundance breakout Never Rarely Sometimes Always (released this past March) and the broader, sweeter dramedy of Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s Unpregnant, streaming on HBO Max Sept. 10.

Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen) is Veronica; popular, driven, and cheer-captain cute, she's got it all worked out: enjoy her adoring dingbat boyfriend (Alex MacNicoll) and last few months of high school, then head out to college at Brown and the big world beyond.

When she finds herself on the wrong side of a broken condom, though, none of her cool-girl crowd comes through. And so she turns to her onetime best friend, the cheerful outcast Bailey (Euphoria’s Barbie Ferreira) — and when they find out that ending a pregnancy without parental permission is illegal in Missouri, it’s Albuquerque or bust.

Based on the YA novel of the same name by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan, the script crackles with (and occasionally stumbles on) currency, from the flashes of social media superimposed on the screen to the ratatat banter that flies between its two stars. (Bonus points to the writers for working in more than one knowing reference to the teen-movie touchstones that came before them, including Heathers and Juno).

As a director, Goldenberg (Valley Girl) tends to lean a little heavy into slapstick; one particular plot turn involving a pair of overly friendly fundamentalists (Breckin Meyer and Sugar Lyn Beard) feels too silly and telegraphed to really take seriously. But Richardson and Ferreira have a sweet, sharp chemistry: one the type-A perfectionist trying desperately to keep it together, the other a hedonist in green fun fur whose outrageous exterior masks a deeper hurt.

Though other actors — including Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito and Australian pop star Betty Who — appear in what are essentially extended cameos, the soul of the story belongs to its two stars' odd-couple interplay. Their easy naturalism makes the best scenes sing, and it's in that spirit that the movie feels most true to teen-dom: tender, quirky, and from the heart. B

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