Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014)
Obvious Child, the first feature film from writer/director Gillian Robespierre, is a romantic comedy about a young woman getting an abortion. That’s right: girl and boy meet cute; girl and boy get drunk and screw; girl gets pregnant and doesn’t tell boy; boy wonders why girl avoids him; girl gets an abortion; life goes on. Normally, in such films (romantic comedies – not films about abortion), the main obstacle to overcome is that the potential romantic partners don’t initially like each other (from It Happened One Night to When Harry Met Sally to the utter failure that was Blended, this has been the pattern). Here, they actually get along just fine, despite their obvious differences. Instead, the obstacles in the way of their eventual union lie entirely within the neuroses of the main (female) character, twenty-something Donna Stern, played with great zest and charm by thirty-something actress and stand-up comedian Jenny Slate (until recently best known for dropping an f-bomb in her debut appearance on “Saturday Night Live“). That and the fact that Donna actually goes through with the abortion (as opposed to the main characters in Juno and Knocked Up) makes this a very fresh and delightful take on both the rom-com genre and films about abortion (if you are against a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body, however, then you may not like the film).
I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie. I usually avoid films from the mumblecore set, and worried that this might hew too close to that aesthetic. I was wrong. Through a combination of genuinely funny writing, performances both sharp and sweet, and fine cinematic camera moves and editing flourishes, the movie wins both your heart and mind. True, Donna Stern is initially an annoying self-absorbed twit, but Slate shows us how the character’s insecurities are the cause of her cluelessness, and allows her to mature before our eyes. The supporting cast – including Jake Lacy (Pete from “The Office,” Season 9) as Max (the impregnator), and Gaby Hoffmann (most recently in Veronica Mars) as Nellie, Donna’s best friend – is also excellent, and has the additional virtue of looking more normal than the usual denizens of rom-com-land. All in all (again, unless you are an ardent pro-lifer), the film’s a winner.
And let’s talk about that abortion. The film never treats it like a joke (though everything else is fair game), but instead uses Donna’s predicament to muse on the options facing single women accidentally with child. In one lovely scene, Donna and her mother (a terrific Polly Draper) have a heart-to-heart in which they share stories of their respective unwanted pregnancies. How often do you see that in a film, much less a comedy? In its refusal to judge Donna even as she struggles to earn our respect, Obvious Child may just be the most radical film of the year. Of course, it’s also a raunchy sex farce which never feels like it’s preaching to you. What more could you ask for?