When broken down to its constituent parts, Obvious Child is full of surprises: a story of pregnancy and abortion that never puts its leading character’s decision to terminate up for “debate,” a romantic comedy that doesn’t feel like one as the plot unfolds, and a star-making seriocomic turn for a familiar comedian (Jenny Slate of SNL, Parks & Rec, Kroll Show, etc.) that doesn’t involve gratuitous sobbing and broad monologuing. But the biggest surprise in Obvious Child is how naturally it employs these oft-avoided topics and techniques to make a laugh-out-loud, terrifically realized film while avoiding the moralism and didactic tone of most left-of-center cinema.
The film tells the story of Donna, a Brooklyn-based comedian whose on-stage insights mask her lack of stability in her social life. Following a post-show breakup with her longtime boyfriend, Donna finds single, pregnant, and totally unready for adult life. “It was a story I haven’t read before in many different ways,” Slate told DigBoston. “The comedy was new and fresh and belonged to a vernacular that I understand. It comes out of a more honest movement and trend in comedy that I haven’t seen in a scripted piece before. It was a chance for me to play someone who was as equally funny as they were vulnerable. That’s really dreamy for me.”
When one-third of American women have an abortion by the age of 45, portrayals of the procedure and of women who have had it are curiously rare in mainstream media. When they do exist, it’s almost never portrayed the way they actually happen, as either the actions of a morally ambiguous woman (“House of Cards”) revenge against the father (The Godfather Part II), or avoided entirely (Knocked Up). The fact that the only non-judgmental, accurate depiction of a woman terminating a pregnancy we can think of was 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High should be a wakeup call.
“We wanted to tell the other choice,” explained writer-director Gillian Robespierre, who makes her feature-length debut with the film. “There are many choices that can be made. So we wanted to tell it in this matter of fact way very straightforward, regret-free but always with thought. Donna isn’t super happy about this situation; she’s thoughtful, we just don’t see her making the choice [to terminate the pregnancy] because it’s a scene that kind of foreign. She knows she has to make this choice it’s the only choice for her … This character wasn’t going to cry for hours and hours about it, but she was going to talk to the women in her life about it … She’s clearly nervous, but she’s never going to second guess her decision.”
In addition to the intelligent and honest treatment of its subject matter, Obvious Child is also the funniest goddamn movie of 2014 so far, deflating the widely held false dichotomies between good politics and solid entertainment, between romantic comedy and good filmmaking, and between taking a subject seriously and maintaining a healthy sense of humor.
OBVIOUS CHILD | RATED R | OPENING FRI 6.13, BOSTON COMMON & KENDALL SQUARE CINEMA
THE A-WORD: WHY THE LEFT WING SHOULDN’T SHY AWAY FROM THE WORD “ABORTION”