Obvious Child (directed by Gillian Robespierre) is currently playing in only two theaters in Los Angeles. I went in with pretty high hopes because literally every single one of my Hollywood showbiz friends yelled at me to GO SEE IT. That’s two whole people telling me to see this film. My feminist friends who are not in showbiz told me to do the same. They were happy that a film was not making abortion look like the biggest mistake a woman will make in her lifetime. That’s another two people. I ended up seeing it at the Arclight in Hollywood, which, I was told right before entering the theater, is run by Scientologists. Morals be damned, I needed to see the flick that everyone was raving about! So I powered through and coughed up $15 to support the service that finds wives for Tom Cruise.
So I saw Obvious Child, and I have to say I really liked it. While I definitely appreciated the way it handled a woman in her 20s choosing abortion over completely changing her life to have a child, the real reason I liked this film had to do with the fact that it highlighted the experience of women in comedy. Women in stand-up comedy to be exact, which is different from improv and acting (some people need that clarification). The film stars Jenny Slate, whose character’s name is Donna Stern. Donna is an amateur comedian living in Brooklyn, who by day works at a bookstore, and by night performs to intimate crowds of people in a poorly lit bar. Oh, I should add now that I am a stand-up comedian and also a woman. Moving on, the film opens with Donna performing her routine for an adoring crowd. Her set was personal, and honest. Especially the part where she brought up the “cottage cheese” discharge that ends up on her underwear at the end of the day. I wasn’t really phased by this, but I could hear others around me audibly cringe and giggle at the same time. Criggle? That’s what happens when you do comedy long enough. In a lot of ways you forget where you are and who you’re talking to. Everyone is your best friend and there’s no such thing as boundaries. Filters are a thing of the past, and cottage cheese panties are the norm. Unfortunately, films that depict stand up comedy don’t often show women in this light. In fact, they don’t often show women.
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Without giving too much away, events lead to Donna having a one night stand with a clean-cut, proper gentleman named Max (played by Jake Lacey). Yes, that one-night stand turns into her getting pregnant and yes she chooses to have an abortion. Sorry, this still might sound like I’m giving too much away but it’s hard to talk about an “abortion movie” without bringing up sex. Some think that her instantly choosing to have an abortion, without giving having a child much thought, is some sort of evil-liberal-Satan behavior. However, these people were not present at an “abortion party” I was invited to a few years back, where my 22-year-old friend told us to meet her at a bar as she planned to drink so much alcohol that it would kill her unwanted fertilized egg. That, I’ll admit, was pretty f*cked up. It was also a really fun night. Sidenote: she ended up just having an abortion.
Most of the film follows Donna’s day-to-day. Her abortion is scheduled weeks in advance, and during that time we see her life change drastically. Most of the changes have little to do with her pregnancy. Her one-night stand, Max, attempts to pursue Donna on a more romantic level. Donna continues to perform at that bar, and struggles with finding a new job. Of course, it’s pretty hard not to have pregnancy on the mind when you’re pregnant, but this film found a good balance of making it about everything else in Donna’s life too (it also did a good job of showing just how unprepared Donna is for motherhood without flat-out stating it). Particularly, her life as a stand up. Most of the interactions with her mother (played by Polly Draper) reminded me of the ones I have with my mom. You know, the typical disapproving mom sentiment of you’re wasting your college degree on poop jokes. An even more (sadly) relate-able scene happens with David Cross (playing a comedian who is not David Cross), who hangs out with Donna and asks why they don’t talk as much as they used to. Donna responds by saying, “Because I rejected you three years ago and you’ve been a shit to me ever since.” (Not a direct quote, but close). Ha, yeah. We deal with crap like that. Then he tries to have sex with her. LOL, I know that one! I’ll admit I’ve been dealing with this much less since tweeting about the few showers I’ve been taking this summer.
The only thing I really hated about this romantic comedy was the romance part. Everything else was so good, so unique, and groundbreaking. Why the f*ck did it have to have such a conventional romantic storyline? Donna’s one random hook up ends up being this great guy who really likes and “gets” her. He goes after her, regardless of her attempts to push him away. There is so much bullshit in this it’s infuriating. I’ve hooked up with guys like Max, and they’ve never tracked me down and begged me to eat tacos with them the next day. Even if I offered to pay. When they were actually doing the one night stand, there was a dance scene before boning. That cute sort of dancing that only happens in stupid rom-coms where the girl wears his shirt and bounces all over the place to show how fun, and free-spirited she is. Not to mention that it turns out Max is a former student of Donna’s mom (her mom is a business professor). What a coincidence!
Luckily, Max was not much of a character. He was not very dimensional, and I assume this is purposely so. He was able to go along with Donna’s jokes–showed signs of charm and intelligence–but the focus was consistently on Donna, and Donna only. Not once do we see what Max’s life is like. What his office job, or friends are like. Not once do we hear him talk to his bros about this chick he met. This, I liked. Nice save, Obvious Child.
You know, most people are want to compare comedic films starring women to other comedic films starring women. However, Obvious Child is nothing like Bridesmaids or…wait, are there many more? In fact, while watching this movie I was reminded a lot of Inside Llewyn Davis. While the Coen brothers flick did not have as many fart jokes, the character of Llewyn holds a lot of similarities to Donna. Both are sort of stuck, yet hopeful. Both see others around them achieve success, while they struggle to afford an abortion.
Sure I had some issues with Obvious Child, but it’s still quite clear that overall this film is a step in the right direction. Donna is stubborn, immature, grotesque, and funny. Kind of like every male lead in a Judd Apatow movie. Trust me dudes, regardless of her having vagina-parts and boob-things, Donna is a person you can indeed relate to. Go see for yourself.