A few minutes after finishing Lili Reinhart’s (Riverdale) new Netflix movie look both wayswe clicked on Twitter and the tweet in our feed was the huck magazine article: “I was denied an abortion that saved my life.” It’s part of a series, and in this one a 28-year-old woman was forced across state lines for a life-saving abortion, ending what was a non-viable pregnancy.
These stories are becoming more and more common, so seeing them was not a surprise. But seeing him just after finishing look both ways it only served to solidify how remarkably, disconcertingly detached from reality (despite not taking place in an alternate universe) the movie is.
In look both waysNat (Reinhart), a recent college graduate, finds herself at a crossroads and we see both of her possible life stories unfold, with the “sliding doors” moment being the result of a pregnancy test. In one timeline, she’s pregnant, her baby-dad is her best friend Gabe (Danny Ramirez), an aspiring drummer. In the other, she isn’t and she moves to Los Angeles with her best friend Cara (Aisha Dee) to pursue her dreams of working in animation.
The problem, and it’s a big one, is that you can’t watch this movie without thinking about the fundamental change in a woman’s right to choose. The film quickly moralizes the sex Nat and Gabe have (they did everything right! They used a condom! They’re the Okay kind of people who could accidentally get pregnant, not the reckless people who get pregnant anyway!) in case you were ready to be mean to Nat.
Reinhart does a formidable job of balancing Nat’s reluctance with his strange urge to stay with his son, but the entire movie is dominated by, well, reality.
In the timeline where Nat is pregnant, which we’ll call Timeline B, Gabe tells her “I’m for your right to choose,” a line that caused a visceral reaction from yours truly.
Abortion is never a potential option in stories that revolve around a surprise pregnancy (even Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life she doesn’t whisper the word ‘abortion’ to Rory in her mid-thirties) and where before it was a slight gesture of annoyance, now it’s changed: the fact is that Nat has no choice.
The state he lives in is never named, probably on purpose to avoid the political conversation that would need the information. Instead, the film focuses on the struggles of young motherhood, all the while supported, albeit with a bit of sarcasm, by her wealthy (or at least middle-class) parents.
But what about women who don’t have wealthy parents and childhood homes to move back into? No, this movie doesn’t have to show the trials and tribulations of every young mother, just Natalie. Before women’s rights and bodily autonomy were destroyed, a viewer might have been able to forget about the real world and immerse themselves in the dual narratives of Natalie’s possible lives.
Now, that’s impossible, at least for this writer, and it’s insulting to have to watch it unfold as if this great change hasn’t happened, as if autonomy over the bodies of American women hasn’t been wrested. Surely, SURELY, no matter what state Nat lives in, she is aware of this.
Timeline A is no less insulting, though it is less visceral. Somehow, despite being a 22-year-old Gen Z woman, Nat has no idea that she has to write a cover letter when she applies for her ‘dream job’. She stupidly asks, ‘So what, you just have to be rich to be an artist?’ to which her friend replies flatly ‘Yes. America.’
These are revelations that all millennials and Gen Z know to be true, and it’s beyond inconceivable that Natalie wouldn’t. Yes, she would be frustrated, but the naivety with which she approaches these life lessons is unbelievable.
And yet, everything works out for her. In both timelines (spoiler alert), she gets what she wants: a successful career in animation, or at least the beginning of one. In timeline A, she confesses her love for Gabe and in timeline B, she meets her new boyfriend Jake; in both she is happy.
It’s as if the filmmakers don’t want to judge whether a woman’s life is better with or without children. Ignoring the socioeconomic details that make Nat’s life possible in timeline B, we can imagine a world where both timelines make her happy. While not exciting, it’s a fair enough ending, given that the only person who should make that call is the person who has the child.
unfortunately we to know that this is not the world we live in, and look both waysThe strange blindness to this fact makes it unpleasantly strange.
If you’ve read all of this thinking ‘I couldn’t care less’ then that’s fine, but look both ways there’s nothing else to recommend it: cheesy writing, a total lack of suspense, and no dramatic play at all make it not only insulting but also boring. Hopefully one day someone will give Lili Reinhart a role worthy of her talent; her presence, her ease on screen, is one of the only remotely positive things about this movie.
look both ways is now available on Netflix