When a Glamour magazine review complains that a Netflix film resembles “pro-life propaganda,” you know the film is going to be good. And for the most part it is. “Look Both Ways” is a surprisingly wholesome, subtly pro-life film released on the streaming service earlier this month.
It’s a tale of one woman and two lives: in one universe, she gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a college friend and raises her baby girl as a single mother. Years later, she ends up with the dad after some needless drama to spice up the plot, and she also accomplishes her career goal of showing a short animated film at a festival.
In the other, she is not pregnant after a one-night stand with a college friend. She moves to Los Angeles, falls in love with someone else, and after some (more realistic) drama to spice up the plot, ends up with the guy and the career goal of showing a short animated film at a festival.
It’s ultimately a story with a simple and positive, if reductive, message: life may not always go as planned, but it all works out in the end. It’s a great watch for rom-com lovers, and a surprisingly good film for conservatives — which is why it has made so many reviewers mad.
The film’s director has stated that “Look Both Ways” was not taking a stance on abortion. “Even though this film is not necessarily about choice, I love that it tells any young woman that regardless of which way your life goes, if you truly follow your heart, you’ll be good,” director Wanuri Kahiu told Variety. “You’re making the right decision for yourself.”
But despite this diplomatic framing, leftist movie critics are not happy to see an unplanned pregnancy turn out well on the big screen.
“A feel-good pregnancy drama? In this socio-political climate? What could possibly go wrong?” gawks Glamour.
“It’s jarring to see Natalie’s unplanned pregnancy introduced as a cool dose of reality rather than decision to be made, and the movie’s post-Roe release only adds insult to injury,” whines The New York Times.
“Look Both Ways” plays the abortion issue carefully, setting up its dual plot not with a choice to have an abortion, but instead with an alternate universe in which the baby never even exists. That way, it can tell the story of a young woman’s life in two directions without making any moral claims about abortion.
When our heroine Natalie does get pregnant, she simply decides to keep the baby by going with the flow of the universe. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she says. “It’s just it feels like this is something that I have to do, like this is what was supposed to happen.”
For his part, Gabe, the guy who got her pregnant, is similarly sanguine. He tells Natalie that he’ll support her no matter what, delivering the cringe-worthy line, “I’m pro your choice.”
The most unsupportive characters may be Natalie’s parents, who are initially skeptical about her decision to keep the baby. They remind her that she once had hopes and dreams, as if they’ve gone out the window forever. But her parents come around, after some whining about the end of their empty-nester life when Natalie moves back in with them.
In the end, both Natalie the mom and Natalie the LA career woman get to have it all: love and professional success. The movie indicates that you can have a baby at an inopportune time and still pursue your goals; it’s baby Rosie’s penchant for sleeplessness that inspires Mom Natalie’s successful short film about a night owl.
But even though the movie is self-consciously affirming of the life a woman can have with an unexpected pregnancy, it doesn’t do a good job of backing up its own message.
Mom Natalie only experiences her daughter as a plot device, a barrier that she has to hurdle to get what she wants. She twice turns down Gabe because she’s afraid that a relationship won’t work out, never considering that having married parents could be best for Rosie.
And it’s great to see a Hollywood depiction of a mom who gets to have professional success and a family life, but it would have been okay if Natalie’s priorities had shifted. It would have been okay if her animated film had been picked up in 10 years, or never. Maybe Natalie decides that she wants to settle down with Gabe and have more children. Her mom life doesn’t have to closely parallel her other life to be meaningful. Having children changes you is a truism that you won’t see depicted in the film.
Natalie begins the story with a five-year plan, a detailed vision of how her life is about to pan out. In both versions of her life, this plan fails. Before her happy ending, career Natalie is fired from her animation job and dumped by her long-distance boyfriend.
And yet the film ends with both Natalies, five years after the fateful pregnancy test, attending the same film festival and walking away with the men of their dreams. Either way, Natalie’s five-year plan kind of actually works out.
After the festival, both Natalies return to the bathroom where their lives diverged, staring into the mirror and realizing that things ended up alright. “You’re okay,” they say to themselves. It’s a fitting last line for a film that really is just about Natalie and her own journey to self-actualization.
If you’re looking for a lighthearted film that treats motherhood as one positive step in the course of life, then “Look Both Ways” is for you. “I just hope that the film shows that we’re very much in support of women who have children and still pursue their passions,” Lili Reinhart, who plays Natalie, told Yahoo! Entertainment. “It’s so important and it’s not one or the other. You don’t have to just abandon your passion and your goals.”
But if you’re looking for a film that accurately depicts the dramatic transformation that motherhood brings, changing a woman’s priorities and leading her to happiness in ways that she never could have expected, then this film isn’t it.
“Look Both Ways” is so close to being pro-parenthood. It just needs to shed the millennial ethos that, come babies or high water, my life is all about me.
Madeline Fry Schultz (@madelineefry) is the assistant contributors editor at the Washington Examiner.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.