I could start off by saying that this is the sweetest romantic comedy about abortion I can imagine, and that’s probably true. That said, it basically is a romantic comedy about abortion, and that’s not a subject I particularly enjoy in films.
The “obvious child” of the title is not really the baby being aborted, who’s barely acknowledged at all, but the 27-year-old Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a girl in New York City working in a progressive bookstore and doing stand up comedy in the evenings. The film opens on one of her routines, and it’s an awkward but decently funny brand of self-deprecating humor. We’ll see a few more as the film goes on and they parallel her changes in self-confidence as she’s first dumped by her boyfriend (a particularly terrible self-pitying routine) and then as she regains confidence through the growing up that pregnancy has forced her to do – even though she decides to end that pregnancy and doesn’t waver.
I actually wrote a paper in grad school about three pregnancy films of 2007 – Juno, Knocked Up, and 4 Weeks, 3 Months, 2 Days. It would’ve been fascinating had Obvious Child come out that year, too. I mentioned in that paper that Knocked Up was somewhat unbelievable because Allison (Katharine Heigl’s career-minded character) would definitely have AT LEAST considered abortion when she discovered she was pregnant after a one-night stand with Seth Rogen. Ellen Page’s Juno did consider abortion, but ultimately found the clinic offputting and decided to find an adoptive family instead. (The third film is explicitly about seeking an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania.)
Obvious Child veered too far the opposite way from Knocked Up for me, and maybe it’s simply that you can’t really make a film that centers so much on an abortion (at least not now, when it’s such a hot-button topic) without having it seem agenda-driven. The agenda here is “abortion is normal, casual even, everyone has had one and it’s no big deal.” The only thing Donna balks at is the cost, and even that’s never really followed through (I guess her mom gave her the money?). On the flip side, if a character like Donna had not considered abortion, or had flipped at the last minute and decided to keep the baby, that would’ve felt false. I know this is the film Gillian Robespierre wanted to make, so I can’t say she wrote herself into a corner or anything like that, but for me personally as a viewer, it’s kind of a no-win topic.
As an indie rom-com, it’s fairly assured, especially as a debut. Jenny Slate is a good lead, and captures the awkward humor of the character perfectly, as well as giving her a lot of depth in the quieter, more thoughtful moments. Her tentative romance (post one-night-stand) with Jake Lacy’s Max is sweet and enjoyable, and Gaby Hoffmann’s best friend Nellie stole every scene she was in. I do tire a bit of this type of awkward twenty-something indie film, something which also hurt In a World, another recent woman-directed film that I wanted to like a lot more than I did.
There were moments I enjoyed or appreciated a lot, others that made me cringe for a variety of reasons, and the confluence of sensibility and subject matter just wasn’t great for me. I’m glad to have seen it, though, because I heard so much about it when it came out and I was quite curious to check it out.
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by Gillian Robespierre
starring Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Obvious Child entered my chart:
Obvious Child beats Kramer vs. Kramer
Obvious Child loses to Johnny Tremain
Obvious Child beats DuBarry Was a Lady
Obvious Child loses to A Room with a View
Obvious Child loses to The Blob (1958)
Obvious Child loses to Ikiru
Obvious Child beats Apocalypse Now
Obvious Child loses to Vanilla Sky
Obvious Child loses to Shenandoah
Obvious Child loses to Dick Tracy
Obvious Child beats Reap the Wild Wind
Obvious Child loses to Wet Hot American Summer
Final ranking #1322 out of 3610 films on my chart (63%)
It is now my #1 (and only) Gillian Robespierre film, my #1 (and only) Jenny Slate film, and my #15 film of 2014.
Obvious Child was recommended by Marya Gates, a Twitter and TCM Fest friend.
A few quotes…
Donna: Stop looking at your phone while you’re dumping me.
Nancy Stern: You’re almost 30 years old, you don’t know how to do your taxes…
Donna: I’m three years away from 30, and nobody knows how to do their taxes.
Nellie: What is so great about you is you are unapologetically you on that stage, and that’s why people love you.
Nellie: You’re dizzy because you played Russian Roulette with your vagina.
Clinic doctor: Let’s talk about your options.
Donna: I’d like an abortion, please.
A few more screenshots…