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By Merle Bertrand | November 29, 1999

There are few issues in America today that stir up as much heated, occasionally violent debate as abortion. Odd, then, that this would-be provocative film by Nat Colley falls so flat. Mary (Joanie Pleasant), a hot-blooded teenager, and her mother (Shirley Jordan) are engaged in a bitter debate about abortion. While Mary argues for the right to choose, her mom’s opinion seems firm: abortion is the only answer. Finally, reluctantly, Mary gives in and agrees to abide by her mother’s wishes. And that’s where the twist comes in: MOM is pregnant and Mary is the daughter she’ll never have. It’s a surprise I should have seen coming, to be honest, but I didn’t. It was also the only moment in this surprisingly listless film that truly affected me.
The problems with “The Abortion of Mary Williams” are threefold. The pacing is ragged at best. Mary and her mother fight for a while, declare a truce for a few seconds, then pick up right where they left off, rehashing the same arguments. More damaging is that the arguments are never believable. Both performances are so forced and melodramatic, you know you’re watching actors trying to act, taking you right out of the film. Finally, Colley seems uncertain which side of the abortion debate he’s on. Maybe he’s undecided, which could have made for a really powerful, soul-searching film about this highly emotional subject. Instead, while “The Abortion of Mary Williams” is a highly noble and commendable effort to examine a dreadfully serious subject, it’s ultimately amateurish enough to largely defang whatever muddled message Colley was trying to convey.

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