Donna is an aspiring stand-up comedienne in New York City. Her job at a bookstore is about to be non-existent as that store closes down, her boyfriend just broke up with her to go sleep with a friend, and her life is generally a bit of a mess. She hooks up with a guy named Max after a comedy set goes horribly awry, and she discovers that in their drunken stupor they had forgotten to use a condom, and now she is pregnant. She decides to get an abortion, but when he shows up at her work and asks her out again, she realizes that she would like to try going out with this guy. The only problem is how to figure out how to tell him about the upcoming procedure.
Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room: Yes, this is a romantic comedy about abortion. Yes, abortion is a contentious issue that many people think should be illegal, and even the mention of abortion can bring about hushed silence in many a social gathering. No, I am not one of those people who subscribes to that ideology. And no, Obvious Child is not going to change anyone’s mind about whether abortion is morally permissible or not. If the prospect of abortion being normalized offends you, this is not, and never will be, a film for you.
That said, I think Obvious Child is a really important film. It is a comedy, but the topic of abortion is never trivialized for the sake of making jokes or even creating drama. In fact, a major point of the film is that that sort of drama is largely unnecessary; the film assumes that it should be a woman’s choice to go through with an abortion, and that’s never the issue. The abortion is a foregone conclusion as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed. This is a really refreshing approach to a sensitive subject that, really, probably shouldn’t be considered so taboo in a modern, progressive society.
Issue politics aside, what truly carries this film is Jenny Slate’s performance as Donna. She is instantly likeable and relatable, treating the character’s life as a punchline for a series of dark jokes. Slate has talent, and I’d like to see her career lift off from this film, because without her, a lot of the film’s charm would have gone to waste. One of the film’s problems is that, despite the abortion piece, it’s still a pretty barebones romantic comedy tale, featuring an obligatory gay best friend, a sister-like roommate, and quirky parents. And yet, Slate makes all these side characters believable, if by no other virtue than by stealing the spotlight from them so that we never get to see their lack of dimension. Unfortunately, though, that lack of narrative meat is a double-edged sword as the film’s final third features some strangely unfunny filler material wherein Donna is attempted to be seduced by David Cross (Arrested Development’s Tobias). Considering the film is barely over eighty minutes long, these scenes were clearly included only to bring the film to feature length, but they still feel oddly disconnected from the rest of the narrative and don’t really feature any worthwhile material.
Minor faults aside, Obvious Child is a really fun movie with some fantastically progressive attitudes. Jenny Slate is a talented comedic actress who really knows how to deliver a leading role. This could have been a disaster without someone charismatic as the face of such a controversial film. And while I don’t think that it’s an award-worthy piece of cinema, I do think this is an important film by which to measure our cultural attitudes toward an increasingly more socially accepted practice.
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