‘Obvious Child’ Tackles a Taboo Subject with Humor and Grace

By Marissa Giambelluca

Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” is, at heart, the tale of a young woman falling in love while also getting an abortion. I was going to say she considers getting an abortion, but her immediate response to hearing the doctor say she’s pregnant is, “I would like an abortion please. I know that sounds like I’m ordering from a drive-thru, but I would like an abortion please.” It’s safe to say she’s pretty decided.

This romantic comedy is the first of its kind that dares to tell the real story of abortion for a young adult unlike other contemporary movies dealing with unplanned pregnancy like “Juno” and “Knocked Up.” It’s relatable, raunchy and most of all, hilarious. Actress and comedian Jenny Slate hits the nail on the head with her unapologetic humor, unrelenting charm and stock of strange commentary.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Slate is a regular on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show, and had a very brieft stint on SNL. She is revered for being the creator and voice of the YouTube sensation “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On.” In “Obvious Child,” Slate plays Donna Stern, whose life is on the expected downward spiral of a part-time comic living in New York. She is the product of a goofy father (Richard Kind) and an over-bearing mother (Polly Draper). Within the first 30 minutes of the movie, she gets dumped by her boyfriend, loses her job, and bombs her stand-up act because she’s too drunk to face the audience. The silver lining comes in the form of her meeting a very handsome and very sweet guy named Max (Jake Lacy). But their fortuitous encounter quickly goes to hell when they get too drunk to remember how to use a condom, and a few weeks later she finds out she’s pregnant. That’s when things get interesting.

As the movie plays on, we watch Donna attempt to make sense of the fact that she’s pregnant while her one-night stand attempts to score a second date. It’s both comical and heartbreaking. The viewer knows they belong together, and can also sympathize with Donna’s inability to say, “I’m pregnant with your child and I’m getting an abortion” tactfully over dinner. Instead, she leans on her roommate (Gaby Hoffman) and parents for support and withholds her pregnancy from the father.

In between all of this, Donna continues to do her stand-up in the only fashion she knows how: by straight-up telling the audience everything that’s going on. And that’s why the act works; it’s not a stream of one-liners practiced over and over again, it’s her life story scribbled down on a bar napkin 2 minutes before she jumps on stage. She is a close friend telling you about her day, which is so animated, ludicrous, and authentic that it cannot be edited for an act. Donna breaks the news to Max by inviting him to her show and discussing her plans to have an abortion.

What I appreciate most about this movie is its honesty. The awkward encounters, one-liners, and unfortunate mishaps are hilarious, but Slate doesn’t try to over-sensitize unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Most movies shy away from even using the word “abortion,” or worse, they make the decision to keep the child look like the only moral option. “Obvious Child” shows what it’s like for many women who just aren’t ready to have children. They get an abortion, and what’s more, they’re not crippled by it. To drive this home, Donna’s roommate, who admits to having had an abortion as well, says she “never regrets it.” This mirrors the message that Emily Letts tried to communicate when she filmed her abortion back in March. Though she was bombarded with some horrible insults, overall, the feeling is that abortion isn’t as taboo a subject as it used to be.

Leading up to the abortion, Donna is obviously overwhelmed and afraid but by the end of the movie it’s clear that she is going to move on with her life without any guilt or regret. And what’s more, Max accompanies her to the clinic, not at all put-off by her decision. One of my favorite scenes is when Donna is done with the procedure and joins a room full of other pink-robed young girls who are recovering. When Donna’s eyes meet another one of the girl’s, they share a relieved smile.

The movie successfully delivers an honest portrayal of life and love – at least for a 20-something struggling to find her way – without the common pitfalls of a cheesy romantic comedy. Most importantly it doesn’t shy away from a topic that should be addressed, and it does so in a realistic way.

 

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