Obvious Child is not your mother's rom-com
For all of Fox News's fear-mongering about Hollywood being out to indoctrinate us with liberal values, when it comes to pregnancy, the movies have for years been curiously conservative. If a woman gets knocked up, she either loses the baby by accident or carries it to term. Abortion, an option chosen by one in three non-fictional women, is verboten.
But Obvious Child star and real-life comedian Jenny Slate isn't afraid of saying anything. Though it wasn't written for her (four female writers worked on Obvious Child's script, though official credit goes to director Gillian Robespierre), the role of foul-mouthed, vulnerable and impregnated Brooklyn standup comedian Donna Stern fits her so well that her persona already seems fully formed, like Athena bursting from the head of Louis C.K.
When Slate's Donna realizes she's been fertilized, she's comfortable saying the A-word. After her doctor euphemistically talks about her options, Slate straightens her shoulders and says, "I'd like an abortion, please," then repeats herself, not because she's unsure of her choice, but because she's amused by the apologetic quaver in her request, like she's asking a server for a side of French dressing. The big question isn't whether she'll keep the child, but how — or, really, if — she'll tell the father that the fetus exists.
Unlike the hyper-verbal kids of Juno, Donna is so normal, she's a New York cliché. She's a struggling comic too smart to do anything but chase her comedy dreams, and too cynical to bother trying to actually succeed. Her uptight mom (Polly Draper) harps on her to outline her financial future and bemoans that she's "wasting her 780 verbal telling jokes about her diarrhea." Her father (Richard Kind) is a creative goofball who looks like he'd give good hugs. He dotes on his scatological princess, even when he coos that she's an aberration. So do her two best friends, Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) and Joey (Gabe Liedman, Slate's longtime sketch partner), as though Robespierre worries that we'll get sick of Donna if every ten minutes someone doesn't remind us that she's brave, honest and adorable.
During Donna's opening monologue at her regular comedy haunt, she over-shares about her boyfriend and their "functional" sex life. Five minutes into the movie, he dumps her, in part because of her act, and in part because he's already sleeping with her friend. Cue Donna's stages of grief: anger, stalking, depression, bad standup — and, for her grand climax, a drunken, unprotected night with a stranger named Max (Jake Lacy of The Office).
Max isn't her type. For one, he's so clean-cut he looks like a serial killer — or worse, for Donna's Williamsburg crowd, what he actually is: an MBA student. Eventually she dismisses him as "Pee-farter" and slips out of his bed as soon as possible without even considering whether she should leave a note.
It's a curious setup for a romantic comedy, but it works because Donna is no romantic. "I just hate that type of film," she groans, and she'd probably roll her eyes at the script contrivances that keep her crossing paths with her one-night stand. Who knows if she and Max can live happily ever after? The real love story is between Donna and the rest of womankind. What will last is the strength of her friend Nellie's support, her closer bond with her mother, and even the small smile she shares with another patient at the abortion clinic.
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