Friday, February 5, 2010

The Pregnancy Pact (Von Zerneck-Sertner/Lifetime, 2010)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The Lifetime movie I watched last night was The Pregnancy Pact (’s entry doesn’t have the definite article but all Lifetime’s publicity does), inspired by the alleged “pact” made by high-school girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 2008 that they would all seek to get pregnant simultaneously, or as nearly so as the vagaries of biology and the willingness of their boyfriends to have unprotected sex with them would allow them to. The “pregnancy pact” story was first reported nationwide in Time magazine and within a few months was pretty well debunked, and Lifetime and its producers, Robert M. Sertner and Frank von Zerneck (the same duo whose company made Mom at 16), tried to have it both ways: depicting the “pact” but saying it only involved four of the 18 girls at Gloucester’s high school who got pregnant during that school year, and loading the opening credits with disclaimers that it wasn’t a true story but was “inspired” by one.

The movie turned out to be surprisingly good, less because of any special sensitivity on the part of writers Teena Booth and Pam Davis and director Rosemary Rodriguez than due to the sheer power of the issues raised and the ability of the filmmakers to depict them relatively coolly instead of milking them for the obvious sources of emotion. There are so many stories raised by the events in Gloucester — at least as shown here — including the effects of religious repression (the high-school nurse resigns in protest when the school board, citing moral objections to contraception — this is a majority Roman Catholic community — refuses to allow condoms to be distributed in school), the folly of “abstinence education” when it flies in the face of teenage hormones, the irresponsibility of the girls involved (and their utter lack of a sense of reality in terms of just what taking care of a baby entails), the ways parents frequently react in these situations in ways that are just totally counterproductive, and the even greater irresponsibility of the boys who got the girls pregnant in the first place — summed up by one particularly cruel line at a poolside party some of the teenage boys are throwing: “I hope she has other friends that want to get knocked up.”

It’s also a story about the media — the catalyst for the story is 20-something reporter for a teen-oriented blog (albeit apparently a professional one with an infrastructure of reporters and, at least we assume, enough ad revenue to pay for itself) who returns to Gloucester to cover the story after she spent two years there, during which she herself got pregnant (and her boyfriend from back then is now the school’s assistant principal and he’s married with two kids of his own) and later told him she’d had an abortion, but in reality waited too long and ultimately gave the baby up for adoption. The Pregnancy Pact may be a little too blatant for its own good about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but I’m hardly likely to object to a movie in which the good guys are the people (the blogger and the nurse) who are trying to get the town to accommodate itself to human nature as it is, while the bad guys are the religious fanatics who think that by denying contraception to teenagers they can stop them from having sex — and the insensitive, boorish parents who, instead of supporting their pregnant daughters (and their sons who got them that way), threaten them with the law or other sorts of punishment and take a nasty, judgmental attitude towards the whole thing. (I’ve read that in some schools there are girls who are genuinely surprised when they get pregnant because sex education has been so gutted they literally don’t understand the connection between heterosexual intercourse and pregnancy.)

It’s also directed with a refreshing lack of the visual tricks that mar quite a few Lifetime movies, and the acting is generally quite good — notably Thora Birch as the blogger, Sidney Fox (a girl named Sidney?); Madisen Beaty as Sara Dougan, daughter of the head of the Gloucester town council; and Nancy Travis and James McCaffrey as her parents — he’s unemployed and jealous of her for being the breadwinner of the family, which only adds to the stresses when Sara is finally “outed” as pregnant. There are also some appealing soft-core porn scenes between Beaty and Max Ehrich as her boyfriend, Jesse — and though in general the guys in this movie were too twinkie to appeal much to me, Ehrich was not only hot (and blessedly director Rodriguez gave us a lot of bare-chested shots of him!) but also a good actor, ably nailing a rapid-fire confusion of emotions as he’s buffeted by a torrent of stressors (especially when his dad, an attorney played by Douglas M. Griffin, first threatens him with a statutory rape charge, then offers to give the Dougans the money to “take care of” — i.e., abort — Sara’s baby, then demands that Sara have a paternity test to make sure Jesse is the father) and ultimately triggers an episode in which Sara drinks herself almost to catatonia after Jesse learns about the so-called “pact,” thinks he’s been used only as a stud service, and angrily breaks off with her.

Though The Pregnancy Pact starts falling back a little too heavily on melodramatic clichés as the end approaches, it’s still a surprisingly good movie and an example of how well Lifetime can deal with certain kinds of issues if its producers, directors and writers approach them in the right constructive spirit.