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Friday, June 20, 2014

Obvious Child: Finally, the Abortion Comedy We've All Been Waiting For

Posted by on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 10:25 AM

(Obvious Child opens at the Guild 45th today. You should also read Alison Hallett's review, because it's really good.)

Life is like a box of Jenny Slate: Youre probably going to hear some pee and poop jokes.
  • 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.


Comments (5) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
She's on twitter too

Seriously, trying to describe how fun this movie actually is, considering the subject matter, is almost impossible.

But it is very fun. Especially that dance scene.
Posted by Will in Seattle on June 20, 2014 at 10:38 AM · Report this
biffp 2
Hated Juno.
Posted by biffp on June 20, 2014 at 11:00 AM · Report this

One film that could parallel this could be one that was released in the early 1970's called the Carey Treatment--Film revolves around an Pathologist who tries to find out who performed an illegal abortion on a colleague's daughter who dies from it; film contains a scene where the woman dies from a hemorrhage in the seat of her car.

To the best of my knowledge, the movie is not available on DVD--maybe a bootleg VHS, but hard to find if at all.

Good to finally see an abortion film, after many years, unlike the previously mentioned ones, with guts.
Posted by neo-realist on June 20, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Report this
I have a weird question: Does Roberto Bolano's "Savage Detectives" get mentioned in the film, or is it just a good choice of prop book?
Posted by Jizzlobber on June 20, 2014 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Knat 5
That is a pitch-perfect description of Jake Lacy.
Posted by Knat on June 20, 2014 at 5:11 PM · Report this

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