“I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that made me proud to be a woman,” I wailed to my partner as we walked out of the Kathleen Hanna documentary The Punk Singer last December. “What does it say about my standards that I’m relieved when a female protagonist likes Back to the Future? Or when they wear pants and it’s not a reflection on her gender or sexuality? Or when a female lead doesn’t immediately imply a romantic comedy?” I continued on, pathetically justifying my tears. This conversation really wasn’t that long ago. In the approximate six months since, Gillian Robespierre has made Obvious Child, a definite step in the right direction.
The film focuses on Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a recently-dumped Brooklyn comedienne, struggling to gain her emotional and financial bearings. As cock-up (pun-intended) would have it, in a hilariously destitute state, Donna goes home with Max (Jake Lacy), a business student and a generally too-fratty for her taste, kind of guy. “He’s so Christian. He’s like a Christmas tree,” she moans in reluctant acceptance. And as is so often the case with emotional floundering, you forget things. Like condoms. But this is no Juno or Knocked Up. The twist here is that she’s actually getting the abortion. WHAT!? You say. AND IT’S A COMEDY?! Women’s rights, wild, I know. We’ve been led to believe by (ahem, the latter of the previously mentioned) that totally ill-equipped, ill-suited couples should reproduce because “schmish shmortion” is for, some unspoken reason, not an option.
Equally for reasons unclear, cinematically, and even artistically, our cultural consciousness tells us that abortion is a narrative non-starter. Where is the story there? Reductive and even dangerous, this attitude is inherently dismissive of women. And it is truly to the testament of Robespierre’s (and her team’s) writing that the movie feels not only not drawn out, but perfectly full and enjoyable. The trajectory traces from Donna’s break-up, to her ill-fated one night stand, to the several week process of waiting for an abortion, to the abortion itself, and its brief conclusion. The majority of the film deals with Donna’s feelings about her undebated procedure, unequivocally stating that this emotional process is legitimate.
A romance component is present but not hard-hitting. It most likely won’t work out between them but that’s because it probably shouldn’t; it’s not a film about finding true love, it’s a film about support. And the support truly finds itself in the fullness and nuance of its characters. There’s Donna’s goofy puppeteering father (Richard Kind) and her, uptight-and-occasionally-comforting mother (Polly Draper). Not to mention, Donna’s roommate Nellie (expertly played by Gaby Hoffman), the wise and maternal friend who’s not afraid to say that Donna doesn’t owe Max any explanation. This sentiment, expressed between breaths of, “maybe we should start a beautiful life together,” and “[maybe he just deserves to know] I’m not a psycho,” does not come off as particularly political. Rather, it’s a pragmatic response to a reality for so many. Obvious Child’s radicalism, therefore, lies in its banality.
There can be no doubt that there’s still a long way to go. Obvious Child does not fix, or claim to fix, the way we see women and their bodies. A comedy about abortion will alienate some no doubt. And not unlike the issue Lena Dunham’s Girls faces, its truth is specific and not relatable to all. But it is its own small triumph. A well acted, adeptly directed, perceptively written, hilariously funny, birth of something.
Obvious Child opens today in Philly area theaters.
 Please note, this is not a spoiler. There is no contention to the termination of the pregnancy and if you think that’s a problem, this movie probably isn’t for you.
Author: Madeline Meyer
Madeline recently graduated from Oberlin College where she studied Cinema Studies. She writes screenplays and ill-received dad jokes. She likes board games and olives.