By Michael B. Murphy
For a movie that is so clearly progressive in its premise, “Obvious Child” is also earnestly nostalgic for the good old days when love at =rst sight was something to be cherished and believed in. “Obvious Child” is a film that adeptly maneuvers itself through the controversial issue of abortion. It does so while existing within the stifling confines of a tired genre that is rife with cliches – the dreaded Rom-Com.
Undoubtedly, many Americans may =nd the premise to “Obvious Child” audacious and hard to swallow, as it is a comedy centered around a twenty-something female standup comic named Donna Stern (former Saturday Night Live member Jenny Slate) who discovers she is pregnant after a drunken, one night only sexual tryst with a young man named Max (Jack Lacy). Upon discovering her pregnancy, Donna, without any reservations, plans to terminate her pregnancy with an abortion.
While the more liberal and progressive viewers of “Obvious Child” will have zero qualms with the film’s treatment of abortion as a viable solution to an unwanted pregnancy, I can only imagine the reactions those who are hunkered down in the conservative trenches will likely have in seeing this film. I’d imagine they’d use the words “rank,” “odious” and “repugnant” to describe this particular cinematic experience.
I myself, a very liberal and progressive young man from the Northeastern United States, even
experienced some trepidation before seeing the film as I sat down in a modestly attended screening at the always wonderful Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.
I envisioned cliched scenes involving Slate’s character having to push her way through the jeering crowd of pro-life picketers who booed and hissed at her as she made her way towards the abortion clinic, or her giving an impassioned “It’s my body” speech to her parents who demanded she keep her child. Thankfully, these scenes did not occur.
Instead, I was treated to a brief look into the life of a humorous yet scared standup comic who, despite facing mounting uncertainties in her life (she discovers her boyfriend and best friend have been having an affair, the bookstore she works at is going out of business and she drinks quite a bit), is absolutely certain she doesn’t want a child.
Jenny Slate is a revelation in the film as a comic who is brutally honest about her personal life when she is onstage telling jokes. The film begins with a long opening credit scene where Slate’s character delivers grotesque yet humorous observations concerning urination, defecation and, yes, the condition women’s underwear are in after a long day of having been worn.
The sophomoric and scatological humor that runs throughout “Obvious Child” may prove to be the biggest hurdle for filmgoers to get over, perhaps even more than the abortion premise (by the 11th piss and poo joke I watched two elderly couples angrily exit the theater). But both the childish humor of Slate’s character and the abortion issue work hand-in-hand, as by the time we discover she’s become pregnant, we the audience and Slate’s character are in complete agreement – she’s an “obvious child” and not yet ready to be a mother.
For those worried “Obvious Child” will be heavy-handed in it’s pro-life leanings, fear not. Yes, the film does feature a scene where Stern’s friend delivers a passionate speech about how Stern needn’t inform Max (who has been attempting to woo Stern for a second date ever since their one night stand) about the pregnancy and her decision to get an abortion as it isn’t his body and therefore it is not his problem. However, it was refreshing to see Slate’s character respond with laughter, labeling her friend’s fiery diatribe against men as more than a little frightening.
Though I only laughed out loud a handful of times while viewing the =fim, I was consistently amused by “Obvious Child.” Slate is wonderful as Donna Stern and Jack Lacy conveys such a warmth and innocence as Max that one never doubts that he is indeed in love with a woman he just met. Surprisingly, “Obvious Child” feels most like a Rom-Com during a scene where Max and Stern are in the clinic, waiting for the procedure to begin.
For such a small, modest movie, “Obvious Child” is certainly groundbreaking on many levels, and though its premise alone may keep many moviegoers away, this is a film that people should be encouraged to see and talk about as it is, ironically, very life-affirming.