Trust us, "fifteen" and "pregnant" are two words Judge Ian Visser has heard more than enough in his life already.
"You're not pregnant, are you?"
Fifteen & Pregnant does a commendable job portraying the consequences of teen pregnancy, but takes the easy way out with a feel-good ending.
Facts of the Case
Tina Spangler (Kirsten Dunst, Bring it On) is your typical fifteen year-old. She hangs out with her friends, she plays sports at her high school, and she shops at the local mall.
Tina is also sexually active with her boyfriend. Her first time experimenting with sex is without protection, and now Tina finds herself in a situation she is unable to handle. Instead of supporting Tina, her estranged parents are angry and bitter, especially her mother Evie (Park Overall, Empty Nest), who is already caring for three children of her own.
Tina must now face the toughest decisions of her young life; what to do about her pregnancy, and how to manage as a single, teen-aged mother. These new pressures will push her family to the breaking point, and endanger the already tenuous relationship between her separated parents.
I didn't entirely get what I was expecting from Fifteen & Pregnant. I anticipated a typical television movie, dealing with the usual crises and struggles that need to be overcome so that our characters can all live happily ever after. Nothing shocking, nothing too nasty or unpleasant, ever occurs in such a film, and the ending is always reaffirming and heartwarming. Instead, what we get with Fifteen & Pregnant is a tough look at teen pregnancy and its impact on an entire family. Only in the final moments are we let down as an audience.
The filmmakers no make bones about Tina; she is spoiled and selfish. Her first thoughts when told she is pregnant are how it is going to affect her position on the soccer team and how fat she will become. She assumes that she will carry the baby to term, and that her family will assist in the care and raising of the child, no questions asked. When faced with difficult situations or decisions, Tina reacts like a typical teen, lashing out at those around her and insisting she is not at fault for her own situation.
Tina isn't getting much help from anyone. Her boyfriend Ray (Daniel Kountz, Confession) almost immediately distances himself from his responsibilities, leaving Tina almost alone in her ordeal. Her best friend Laurie (Margot Demeter, Zero Effect) is already a single mother herself, barely able to hold onto her job and attend school while providing for her own child. And instead of finishing junior high with her class, Tina is shuttled off to a pregnant teen class away from her peers.
The realistic portrayals in the film extend to the family characters, as well. Tina's mother is still raising her own kids, and is more frustrated and disappointed than overjoyed at the prospect of caring for a grandchild. Tina's siblings are confused and angry, unsure of how to deal with the pregnancy and all the new attention that Tina is receiving. Only her father (David Andrews, Stealth) seems willing to help, but is estranged from the family and only around on weekend visits.
Director Sam Pillsbury (Knight Rider 2010) is a veteran of television films, and doesn't pull any punches here. Tina and her mother fight constantly, barely managing to speak to each other over the course of Tina's pregnancy. Instead of a supportive and nurturing home life, the pregnancy creates a chaotic, on-edge environment that has everyone walking on eggshells and wound tight. Nobody is happy or overjoyed at the prospect of Tina's pregnancy, and this realization only further alienates Tina from her family.
Only at the end of the picture does this refreshing take begin to go sour (or sweet, if you prefer). Instead of continuing with this realistic portrayal, we get an unwelcome happy ending which contradicts almost everything that has come before it. It would have been admirable if the film had had the guts to continue with its earlier perspective of teen pregnancy as a negative experience, but instead the viewer is left feeling cheated.
Unlike many of its counterparts, the acting in this television release is top-notch. Kirsten Dunst does a fine job acting out the role of a selfish teen that won't consider the consequences of her actions, and her ability prevents her character from becoming just another stereotype. Park Overall also hits the mark as her mother; her frustrated, exhausted performance conveys the anger that she is trying to suppress towards her own daughter, while she is still trying to make the best out of the situation. This is a definite step above the typical television movie fare.
The full frame video presentation is pretty much what you would expect from a television movie. The colors are bland, and there are noticeable dirt and scratches visible on the image. It certainly won't win any awards, but it is acceptable for the genre. The 2.0 Dolby Digital audio track does its duty, with no significant defects. There are no extras, as is typical with a one-off television release such as this.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fifteen & Pregnant reminds me of the modern romantic comedy—we get to see the relationship struggle to get started, then leave the happy couple in the final moments as they run off into the sunset together. We never see what happens after that, unless we end up with a sequel, or the movie takes some real chances. That is the problem here; we get to see a realistic look at teen pregnancy and the struggles that come with it, but not the tough road that lies ahead for a young mother who has given birth while still a child herself.
This wouldn't be so bad if the movie didn't spend most of its time reminding us how tough that road is actually going to be. Throughout the entire experience, we hear constantly how a teen mother will be broke, lonely, and probably very angry. And yet, in the final moments, we get a happy family reunion and a swell of music that suggests everything will turn out fine.
I'll credit Fifteen & Pregnant for taking a tough look at teen pregnancy. But the failure to show the really tough part, namely the next eighteen or twenty years of child-rearing, short circuits any cautionary tale that has been created. Instead, we get an ending that is dangerously close to suggesting that as a pregnant teen, everything will work out all right in end.
Fifteen & Pregnant deserves kudos for not shying away from the tough ordeal that a pregnant teenager is likely to endure in today's society. However, the willingness to wrap everything up in a happy package limits the effectiveness of this message.
Fifteen & Pregnant narrowly escapes the gallows.
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