Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child is a good example of just how ordinary abortions can be. But even though I’ve spent the first part of this review on the subject of abortion, it would feel unjust to label this simply as a film about abortion. While abortion is a part of the story, it is to a greater degree a romantic comedy revolving around a woman defined more for her frisky, comical behavior than the mere fact that she is interested in having an abortion.
Our protagonist is Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a bookstore clerk by day and a stand-up comedian by night. After getting dumped by her boyfriend and losing her day job, Donna is forced to reevaluate her life. But this isn’t something she is willing to do anytime soon. That is, until Donna ends up getting pregnant after a drunken one-night stand. With the support of her friends Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) and Joey (Gabe Liedman), Donna decides to get an abortion and face adulthood head on.
This is one of the funniest films of the year, a testament to the honest script and Slate’s unrelenting performance. The film finds a balance between being edgy and heartwarming, which isn’t something easy to do. In fact, the film could have easily bowed down to its provocative themes at any time and still be entertaining. Just take a look at 2007’s two pregnancy films Juno and Knocked Up, both of which briefly dabbled with the idea of abortion but chose alternative outcomes. For this reason, I connected more with Obvious Child and didn’t feel cheated on with gimmicky material.
So where does the romanticism come from? Well, it just so happens that the subject of Donna’s one-night stand, Max (Jake Laacy), goes from being a stranger to a suitor. All the while, Donna displays aloof behavior towards Max as she avoids revealing the fact that she is pregnant. Thinking back on it, there is actually a great deal of layered conflict in the film despite its slim runtime of 83 minutes.
Obvious Child is director and co-writer Gillian Robespierre’s feature-length debut, and what a winning debut it is. This is the kind of film that excites you for the future of filmmaking. While not a technical advancement, Obvious Child is a nice step forward for both abortion and feminist theory in film. It’s also pretty wonderful to know that this film was directed, produced, and written by women. After all, why should men have all the fun?