- Life is like a box of Jenny Slate: You're probably going to hear some pee and poop jokes.
I can think of a ton of comedies that skirted over abortion as a topic—Juno, Knocked Up, Junior—in order to make way for the pregnancy gags. So it's a pleasant change to watch Obvious Child, the first romantic comedy I can think of that centers around an abortion. Donna Stern (Jenny Slate, giving one of the best post-SNL debut movie performances you'll ever see) doesn't ever really consider keeping the baby she conceives after a one-night stand. That's because she knows she's not ready to be a parent: She's a stand-up comedian, an employee at a failing bookstore, an immature human being, and kind of a wreck after a recent breakup. So she talks to her best friend (Gaby Hoffmann) about her own abortion experience, she goes to Planned Parenthood, and the whole experience is very drama-free. All of which is refreshing to see, given the tortured way that abortion is usually addressed in popular culture.
But the problem is that this plot—woman accidentally conceives a child, wants an abortion, learns that having an abortion isn't a big deal—isn't the most compelling premise for a film. Generally, you need complications to make a movie interesting to viewers, don't you? Obvious Child resolves that problem by staying quiet and low-key. The film just focuses on a couple of weeks in the life of a funny young New Yorker and her circle of friends and family, and Slate is charming enough to pull it off. The guy she falls into bed with is played by The Office's Jake Lacy, who has a nice, corn-fed Christopher Reeve-like aura about him. It's such a friendly, pleasant cast that the movie bops along on charm alone.
Still, Obvious Child does lean toward the underwritten. Hoffmann's character has absolutely no personality; she solely exists to help Stern cope with her breakup and everything that follows. The character is so selfless and so supportive that she kind of makes Stern seem less likable in comparison, and Hoffmann is such a good actor that to not give her a single scene where she expresses wariness at always having to clean up after her needy friend seems like a waste of talent. And at less than 90 minutes, the film certainly had room to expand and investigate the supporting cast a little more. As a character study, Obvious Child leaves you wanting more, which is always preferable to the alternative, and as a drama-free statement about abortion in the lives of modern women, it's virtually unparalleled in modern cinema.