Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014)
I anticipate that most viewers will either love or hate Obvious Child, but most would-be-haters will probably avoid it in the first place, unless they like to hate-watch things that make them angry. Obvious Child has been described as a ‘subversive rom-com’ due to its controversial subject matter. Following a drunken one-night stand, Donna (Jenny Slate), a stand-up comedienne, discovers she is pregnant, and decides to have an abortion. This decision is right for her at the time, and there is no exploration of other options. Obvious Child is almost the anti-Juno.
The title is a bit ambiguous (apparently it’s named after a Paul Simon song which features in the film) but what is obvious, is that this film is for pro-choice audiences. Those against abortion will probably resent the character of Donna. Furthermore, if you’re someone who believes that women should be perfect ladies at all times (Of course women don’t fart! How vulgar!) then Donna’s frankness is sure to rub you the wrong way. Personally, I found her honest disclosures in her stand-up routines a breath of fresh air, and I generally loved the way she expressed herself. I’d pay to see her stand-up show (if I lived in New York and she was a real person).
It’s unusual for a film to be so upfront about a woman’s decision to have an abortion. There is no guilt-tripping, no big change of heart, and no abortion-picketers in sight. All sap is removed and no judgment is passed. In that way, it is subversive, but I disagree that it is a rom-com. While there is a romantic aspect, the film isn’t really about her relationship with Max (Jake Lacy). It is about a woman navigating her way through her twenties, and her relationships with men, friends, and family members.
Set in Brooklyn, New York, the setting somehow seems more authentic than many other NY-based films, and it made me crave a life in New York (but that’s nothing new). From the seedy bar Donna performs at, to the independent bookshop she also works in, to the gloriously hip apartments. You didn’t even need to see any exterior shots to know where you were. The cooler than cool Brooklyn vibe permeated throughout it all.
Jenny Slate isn’t perhaps your typical leading lady, but she was absolutely sublime. I personally found her character so likeable – she radiated joy in many of her scenes, as well as exposing her vulnerable side. The only scene that seemed a little clichéd was when she leaves multiple drunk messages on her ex-boyfriend’s phone which oscillate between scornful and apologetic. Do people actually do that? It just seems like a movie joke to me. Gaby Hoffman, most recently seen in TV’s Girls, (but who I know best as one of the stars of my favourite childhood movies Now and Then and The Hairy Bird – both classics), plays Donna’s best friend, Nellie. She is a delight – there’s something about her that’s so daring and distinctive. It might be her eyebrows. But I love seeing her because she’s just so NOT the norm in her appearance and style. Jack Lacy as Max was pretty sweet, and Gabe Liedman and David Cross added some extra flare, but it’s all about the girls, girls, girls here. But that’s not to say that guys can’t enjoy this film too. As long as you know that women do fart. CRAZY I KNOW!
You might look down your nose at a character that says things like “Remember from before when we did sex to each other?” and talks about vaginal discharge in her stand-up routines, but I was just glad to hear a young woman tell it like it is, without judging her for it.