FILM: “Obvious Child”

Film review by Pete Mason

When it comes to movies about abortion, options are limited. On one hand, there is “Vera Drake,” and while it was nominated for Best Picture in 2004, no one saw it. Then on the other hand, there is “Obvious Child,” the recent film starring Jenny Slate that takes a comedic yet serious look at having an abortion in present day. The movie does nothing to glamorize getting an abortion, and brings audience members to connect with Donna (Slate) as she deals with the events leading up to having the procedure.

The result of a one-night stand, Donna is pregnant, just dumped and working at a soon-to-close bookstore, and performs stand up comedy to small crowds. She hooks up with Max (Jake Lacy, from the last two seasons of “The Office” and calm and cool like his annex character) and tracing events back, realizes she is pregnant. Her economic and living situations do not bode well for her having a baby, and she moves towards her decision, weighing it all the while she waits a couple weeks before her appointment.

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Now, I have never had an abortion, but I can safely say that what “Obvious Child” presents is a realistic view of what an abortion entails. This is not a white wash and follows no stereotypes, accurate through the emotional roller-coaster Donna embarks on for much of the film. Of course, she is a comedienne, and there are abortion jokes (While waiting for car service to arrive, her friend Nellie [Gaby Hoffman] says, “No, we are not taking a cab. You are going to your abortion in style”), but they are tasteful and alleviate the stress and weight of the decision on her. While in the recovery room later in the film, we see Donna and others coming out of sedation, sobering back to reality – the girl next to her is looking down at her cup of water, large engagement ring in full view, one of the most thought-provoking images in the film yet one of the most subtle.

Jenny Slate is near perfect in this film, capturing the life of a millennial and the thought processes that unravel when presented with a major life crisis. When she loses her job at a bookstore and delivers stand-up comedy that only involves her life’s struggles, the contemplation of an abortion compounds her problems, at only 28 years old. Millennials are taking the movies over, with their own “Garden State” an appealing dark comedy on a topic that one has an opinion on, but does not discuss without provocation. Setting the film in Williamsburg gives familiar location to the dilemma, akin to “Girls” but about as long as four episodes strung together.

“Obvious Child” is well-written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, and based on a previous short film. The title takes its name from Paul Simon’s song “Obvious Child”, and has a soundtrack that features Simon, the London Souls and indie artists that frame the picture well. The use of duos in shots set against a New York background is similar to the style of Woody Allen, particularly with the conversation style in these scenes. Director Robespierre covers her bases and uses cut-away screens and music to extend scenes, and the film that clocks in at only 84 minutes. Gaby Hoffman plays Nellie, Donna’s roommate and trusted friend, showing immense potential and a saner, more collected side to her than her stint on “Girls” as Adam’s crazy sister. Richard Kind is heartwarming as Donna’s father, and her mother Nancy (Polly Draper) is there to turn to throughout the crisis; with mom and dad a cab ride away, the millennial Donna is able to stem the flow of emotions pouring out from her decision, but making it no easier in the process.

The moral debate of abortion is not taken lightly in “Obvious Child,” where other films, such as “Knocked Up,” could not even bring themselves to utter the word abortion (they used ‘shmishmortion’) but here the word is used liberally and even in a stand-up bit. The stigma is taken away in the course of the film and presented in real-life. A funny and dark indie, “Obvious Child” is thought-provoking, glorifing nothing (not even the millennial struggle) and leaves you wondering where that final scene leads to after the screen goes black.

“Obvious Child” is not an odd choice for a date movie, and your conversation afterwards is a crap shoot. On that note, you can probably rule sex out after the movie as well, but that one shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“Obvious Child” is rated R for language and adult situations. It is currently playing at the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany.

Pete Mason’s book, “The Evolution of the War Film Genre,” is now available for iPad and Kindle.

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