Obvious Child is a fantastic little film. For a lot of reasons – it’s funny, it’s clever, star Jenny Slate is incredibly charming and it’s a smart subversion of rom-coms. But more than that – it’s brave. It’s fantastically honest in a way that most films usually aren’t. Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child boldly goes where few films dare tread – abortion. And it dares to do so in a highly entertaining and rather unorthodox way, which is one of the many reasons the film works.
Slate plays Donna, a comedian struggling to figure out her next step after she loses her day job and discovers that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with one of her friends. An evening spent drowning her sorrows sees her meet and hook up with Max (Jake Lacey) – a too sweet to be real, but in a comically adorable sort of way guy who she could never actually see herself with, but is in the right place at the right time. And they have a fun evening together, so she figures, what the hell?
A few weeks later, she finds herself pregnant. She knows that she is not at a point in her life where she can have a baby, and decides to have an abortion. The situation grows even more complicated, however, when Max, who she thought would be a one night stand, never to be seen again, doesn’t quite step out of the picture. The two definitely have chemistry, and Jenny is faced with the question of how and if to let Max in on the situation and her plans.
It’s great because of the way it takes a topic that gets shied away from in film and puts it front and center. Abortion can be cautiously joked about and it can be a shameful secret in movies, but rarely is it an adult choice and a viable course of action, the way it is for this character. And Robespierre’s film deals with it in a very candid way, neither romanticizing it nor treating it like a disease. It’s simply a decision that many women choose to make, and it is respectfully treated as such. It offers a perspective that is much lacking in cinema, and seeing the way it is dealt with here is positively refreshing.
And this isn’t 90 minutes of her deciding and weighing her options etc. She knows. This isn’t that movie. It doesn’t treat her decision lightly, but it’s also not about a heavy choice filled with regret. There is no question in her mind that having a baby at this point in time would be the wrong move. Instead, this film is about a woman still finding her way through life and handling the curveballs as best she can.
Slate is just spectacular. I’m not a big SNL watcher, so this was my first exposure to her, and I immediately wanted to be her friend. She’s fun, she’s lively, her stage presence during the stand-up segments is crass and open and totally relatable. She really brings a great deal to the character and gives Donna the charm, sass and the vulnerability to make it work.
And yes, the abortion debate is a hot-button issue, and probably always will be. But it’s a subject that could greatly benefit from coming out in the open. Even for people who are pro-choice, it is still a sensitive topic, and one that is often not talked about outside of the political bubble. But, like many things, if we take it out of the closet and spend some time with it, it will feel like less of a monster. And maybe then we would be able to sit down and discuss it rationally.
Obvious Child is a wonderfully refreshing film – a romantic comedy that writes its own rule book – giving you characters that you care about and can relate to and a wonderfully honest story. The way it refuses to be scared into submission by controversy is inspiring, and gives it a life all its own.