“I’ve never liked rom coms,” says Donna Stern, played by Jenny Slate, at an awesomely self-referential point in Obvious Child. “I just never related to them.”
Obvious Child is excellently relatable—and no mere rom com, either. Director Gillian Robespierre’s debut is a rom com that’s made NPR headlines and Jezebel posts for an unabashedly pro-choice plot. In the film, Donna chooses a procedure that’s incredibly common—1 in 3 American women will have an abortion—but remains a taboo topic, even though it’s been legal in the U.S. for more than 40 years. Right out of the gate, this film has drawn a ton of attention. It was widely reported when NBCUniversal wouldn’t air ads for Obvious Child with the word “abortion” in them, though NBCU later apologized and said “feedback was mistakenly given” to remove the word.
Headlines aside, I went into Obvious Child hoping that it would stand well enough on its own merit. As a sweet little indie comedy packed with one-liners, it totally does. This is a film about an abortion, yes, but more about the conflicting intersection of immaturity and adulthood that a lot of people deal with in their 20s. It’s an intersection that’s particularly weird for women, because society expects a different degree of maturity from adult women than it does of men. In the very first scene, Donna, a Brooklyn bookstore employee and aspiring comedian, is onstage at a comedy night, telling jokes involving vaginal secretions and farting—so you know straightaway this show isn’t going to make any pretense of ladies being delicate, sensible flowers.
Donna also tells jokes about her boyfriend, an uneasy looking guy in the audience, and this doesn’t bode well. After he breaks up with her in the graffiti-filled bathroom of the club, she goes on a depressed downward spiral, chugging wine and leaving pathetic voicemails.
Slate, a real-life comedian who played Mona-Lisa in recent seasons of “Parks and Recreation,” anchors the film with her first big lead role. Slate’s a fantastic physical actor, willing to do all kinds of goofy face contortions, though make no mistake, she’s very pretty. I’d kill for her hair.
Anyhow, pretty soon Donna gets drunk and meets a cute dude, Max, played by Jake Lacy. The first thing she does is make fun of his shoes. Max seems to dig her bumbling awkwardness, and is rather silly himself, so they jump in the sack. Donna’s still hung up on her ex, so she forgets about it—until a few weeks later, when she realizes her period is late. “I remember seeing a condom, I just don’t know what it did,” she explains to her sister. As the date for the surgery approaches, Donna has to figure out how to tell Max about it—and figure out that she likes him.
Donna also has no compunction in asking her doctor for an abortion, pointing out that she can barely take care of herself. The $500 cost of the procedure is a hardship for her, let alone paying for a kid.
A few nitpicks: The abortion scene, while accurate, is a little outdated from a medical standpoint. Donna caught her pregnancy early enough to have qualified for a pill abortion, though I can see why a surgical abortion better suits the plot’s structure. This is still a rom com, with some of the silly conventions that rom-com haters might have a hard time with, like characters meeting up randomly all the time in New York City. And it bears pointing out that Obvious Child is a comedy about thin, attractive, mostly white people, but my fingers are crossed that this paves the way for more films with more diverse representation.
Obvious Child reminds me of the snappy Comedy Central series, “Broad City,” about two New Yorkers in their 20s who have all sorts of misadventures. “Broad City” and Obvious Child share a lot of detractors for how gross they are. Both make light of the everyday things in women’s lives that are taboo in general society; comedians can talk all day long about boners and poop, but get a lady talking about anything related to her uterus, and suddenly it’s over the line.
Obvious Child is showing in Missoula largely thanks to NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, Blue Mountain Clinic and Planned Parenthood, who teamed up to find a theater willing to show it. In this case, the Wilma stepped to the plate. In these times when women’s right to determine what happens to their bodies is under attack from seemingly all corners (cough, Hobby Lobby), Obvious Child is a reminder that there are still people willing to support women.
Obvious Child continues at the Wilma.