Mating Rituals of the Millennial
Abortion Gets Rom-Comical in Obvious Child
Obvious Child will always be known, first and foremost, as "the abortion comedy." That's the pitch, the premise, and the novelty of writer/director Gillian Robespierre's great new film: It's about a young woman who has an abortion and doesn't feel bad about it. In defiance of every film trope about abortion, which insist that soul-searching and guilt must necessarily accompany a legal medical procedure, there's no equivocating about whether terminating a pregnancy makes sense for Obvious Child's main character. She doesn't agonize over her decision, she doesn't feel guilty, she doesn't pledge to write a letter to her aborted fetus on its birthday every year. She's single, unemployed, and ambitious—of course she's going to get an abortion.
But Obvious Child isn't content to simply portray abortion as the medical procedure that it is: Here, the consequences of an unprotected hookup essentially provide the "cute" in a topsy-turvy millennial meet-cute where drunken sex, pregnancy tests, and Planned Parenthood waiting rooms all come before deciding if you really even like someone.
Jenny Slate plays Donna, a standup comedian with a confessional, no-holds-barred delivery style. After a bad breakup, she has a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy), a cute, doofy guy she meets at the comedy club. And when she gets pregnant as a result, she struggles to decide if she should tell Max about the abortion she's planning to get.
Donna is played beautifully by Slate, an SNL short-timer (remember, she said "fucking" on-air during her debut sketch?) who's still probably best known as the creator/voice of the short film Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. (Bonus for Slate fans: Her longtime comedic partner Gabe Liedman essentially plays himself in Obvious Child.) With Donna, Slate delivers a resolutely multifaceted female lead: charming, fucked-up, smart. By contrast, Max is pure needy-hipster-chick wish fulfillment: adorable, dorky, and gainfully employed. He's a teddy bear with an erection, and he definitely could've used about six more minutes of character development. His reaction to Donna's big pregnancy reveal is the least plausible element of a film that otherwise feels staunchly committed to realism.
There was a time when it would've seemed revolutionary for a movie to open with a woman telling jokes about the goopy state of her panties at the end of the day. (During the drunken hookup scene, a close-up on Donna's underwear lets us know she's ovulating—a shot I'm pretty sure is totally without precedent in the history of film.) But we've reached peak White Girl: The experiences of neurotic millennial women—even the gross experiences—no longer feel like fresh territory, thanks to shows like Girls, Broad City, and Inside Amy Schumer. I never would've predicted, five years ago, that I'd eventually grow tired of relating to movies and TV, but Obvious Child is probably the last slice-of-hipster-girl-life my heart has room for. Thanks to its treatment of abortion, though—a fact-of-life subject for many women that's almost never treated matter-of-factly on film—Obvious Child elbowed its way in and then proceeded to completely transcend its premise. It's a fresh, funny little rom-com: warm, creatively vulgar, and unapologetic in covering new ground.