The Gentle Side of Abortion
For some inexplicable reason, a bunch of elitist fat middle-aged white men have decided to devote their energy to revive a prehistoric war on women’s bodies, namely their reproductive rights. Since the Obama election in 2008, abortion has resurfaced as a “hot potato” topic that has inspired an alarming amount of hostile, inappropriate behavior. Unfortunately, our supreme court has validated much of the shameless vigilantism masqueraded as religious freedom, with rulings such as the elimination of buffer zones for abortion clinics that make the women and the workers open targets for the angry, unruly mobs.
Following society’s non-controversial politically correct mindset of whitewashing hard truths, films and TV shows have largely ignored this subject in fears of receiving scrutiny from one or a group of vocal disgruntled consumers. Even the movies and TV shows have dealt with the subject matter have been ridiculously sheepish in their depiction of abortion. Reportedly, Girls a show that has a good reputation for dealing with hard-hitting issues concerning young women (a stance with which I personally disagree), had the character have an eleventh hour miscarriage in lieu of an abortion.
This summer, an indie comedy entitled Obvious Child has received a lot of favorable coverage from the higher end publications such as Slate, Salon, and NPR for being the first piece of entertainment since Maude or All in the Family to handle the subject in an open and honest way (and not cop out at the last second).
Contrary to my impassioned, partisan rant, Obvious Child is actually a light (but not air-headed), humorous, and intimate account of Donna (Jenny Slate), a woman pushing 30 without a steady career, though she pursues stand-up comedy on the side, where she bares all (figuratively speaking).
Like most current indie rom coms, it suffers from a weak first act that’s a bit too sitcomish. Instead of building character, the screenplay is preoccupied with one-liners designed for big laughs. It gives us caricatures rather than characters. For example, Donna’s boyfriend, whose eyes are callously fixated on his phone as he is breaking up with her, is so unbelievably douchy that it makes it hard to believe what she ever saw in him. The film draws out Donna’s grief, manifested in a seemingly never ending montage of her drunk messaging his answering machine and semi-stalking him, to the point that it becomes exasperating.
After another prolonged montage, this time of the drunken one-night stand between Donna and Max (Jake Lacy) a young IT man whom she met at the comedy club, the film finally settles into its groove after the revelation of Donna’s pregnancy.
In The last two-thirds of Obvious Child, there are two streaming plotlines that are at once connected and seperate: the brief time leading up to the abortion (on Valentine’s Day) and the blossoming romance between Donna and Max. Instead of several situations in the plot, the film finds its humor from the realistic and awkward interactions between two or three characters at a time, particularly from neurotic Donna and shy Max who stumble their way through romance.
While Gillian Robespierre’s writing and directing are good, this film is primarily an actor’s showcase.
Jenny Slate, who got her start on SNL (though she was fired after one year), has steadily built a following with her quirky, adorably crude sense of humor. Obvious Child marks her first leading role in a film. In the headlining role, Slate naturally has received a significant amount of the accolades and deservedly so. She brings a lot of charm and endearingly neurotic wit, but she also captures her character’s vulnerability. Slate is a cross between the zaniness of Gilda Radner, to whom she also bears a close physical appearance and the cutesy foul-mouth of Sarah Silverman, minus the acidic undertone.
However, there are some minor hiccups in her performance where she strains too hard for laughs, such as when Donna embarrassingly tries to hide her embarrassment when Max walks in on her climbing into a box of books.
In a low-key role, Lacy is just as good as Slate, if not better. He gives a nuanced performance that’s a gentile parody of the docile and slightly bland, but very sweet mid-westerner (who warms a package of butter for Donna on a date). Despite the stereotypical exterior, Lacy subtly injects his character’s dry sense of humor that becomes more apparent towards the end.
The entire supporting cast is first-rate. Gaby Hoffman, a former child and teen star who has successfully reinvented herself as an Indie supporting staple, is stellar as Donna’s sensible and supportive roommate/best friend. Polly Draper, who is always an asset, plays Donna’s no-nonsense but loving and compassionate mother who has a surprising secret to reveal. David “Tobias” Cross is amusingly sleazy as a wealthy self-involved comic who hits on Donna at a time when she is most vulnerable.
As in the case of many movies and TV shows (the exception being Louie), the standup performances in Obvious Child come across as stale. Possibly because of the dictates of the moviemaking process, standup loses its immediacy and spontaneity. Only the last routine where she announces her abortion publicly in a Tig Notaro style makes an impact.
While I didn’t find Obvious Child as hilarious as the lady in front of me, who busted her guts laughing, I certainly found it to be a refreshing change of pace from the childish inanity of most summer fare. If you’re looking for an intelligent, gentle comedy, Obvious Child was made for you.