The film opens with Donna Stern (played by Jenny Slate from Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation) doing a stand-up routine in a club in Brooklyn. And then, right after her spontaneous, funny, honest and confessional (although somewhat preoccupied with bodily functions) performance, she gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend in the club’s unisex bathroom. She’s heartbroken and as if that’s not enough – she finds out that the bookstore where she works during daytime (brilliantly named Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books) is about to close. But because she is the obvious child of the film, she handles her situation in the most mature way – she gets wasted, has a painfully bad performance at the club, gets even more wasted, meets a guy, has a rebound one-night stand – and then goes on living her life, without ever imagining seeing Max (a somewhat square but nice guy that she took advantage of) again. But things don’t go as planned – she soon finds out that she got pregnant during that drunken night. Does she tells him about the pregnancy? She doesn’t even know the guy. And she also doesn’t plan to keep the baby. She’s still far from being a grown-up (even though she’s pushing thirty) and not at all ready to be a mother. Not to mention that she doesn’t have a job. She can barely afford to get an abortion – how could she ever afford to support a child?
I admit, I expected another comedy similar to Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (that hardly even mentions a possibility of abortion – the only implication of it is in the following cowardly sentence: “I won’t say it, but it rhymes with shmashmortion.“) or Jason Reitman’s Juno (where the option of abortion is considered for exactly 5 minutes – Ellen Page quickly changes her mind after being verbally attacked by Christian Asian girl and decides that giving the child up for adoption is the right (moral) thing to do). But Obvious Child is nothing like that. Abortion is not considered as amoral, wrong or as a bad word that should be avoided. Instead, Robespierre takes a very clear pro-choice side by making a film (wrongfully accused of being an “abortion comedy”) that’s simply trying to say that if a woman doesn’t feel ready (emotionally, financially or both) to have a child, it is her right to choose not to give birth. It’s about time that we got a film like that – that doesn’t moralize, but deals with this serious topic realistically and with a great deal of brilliant and intelligent wit. It is also about time that this issue got presented from a woman’s point of view. Both Knocked Up and Juno dealt with unwanted pregnancy, but both times the view on pregnancy was presented from a man’s perspective – as it usually is in Hollywood, where female directors and writers are still terribly rare and underrepresented (even Sex and the City, one of the most popular TV shows for female audiences was entirely written and directed by males!).
This film is funny, witty, intelligent and above all – it has this fresh approach to women’s issues that only a female writer/director could provide. Obvious Child is Gillian Robespierre’s film debut starring Jenny Slate who will make you fall in love with Donna even when her sense of humour is on a verge of disgusting (seriously, all that talk about peeing and farting?). The supporting cast is also great, but I especially have to point out Gaby Hoffmann who plays Donna’s feminist best friend Nellie:
Why do you care whether he needs to know or not? You are the one who has to get this procedure and pay for it, okay? You think if he was pregnant, he would be worrying about you right now? No. You guys, we already live in a patriarchal society where a bunch of weird old white men in robes get to legislate our cunts. You just need to be worrying about yourself.
I didn’t believe – until the very end – that Donna will go through with it. I saw so many Hollywood films with pregnant protagonists who considered having an abortion, but who always change their mind at the very last minute, that I found it hard to believe this film will manage to break the pattern. But it did. This is one of the first American films with a really clear pro-choice message; a film that is not afraid to speak about the problem that almost every woman eventually deals with, but is still mainly considered a taboo. And even though the story is mainly about abortion (that happens on a Valentine’s Day, I may add), this doesn’t mean that Obvious Child is in any way unromantic. On the contrary – it is in many aspects a very romantic, as well as entertaining story, that also manages to deliver a very strong message to the viewers: firstly, if I put it in Donna’s own words: “Don’t play Russian roulette with your vagina.“; and secondly, if you by any (drunken) chance do and you get pregnant, it is okay to decide for whatever option you want.
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
Written by: Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Running Time: 84 minutes