One of the most interesting romantic comedies to hit theaters this summer is Obvious Child. The film has been generating substantial buzz as a completely different kind of movie — a funny, edgy, hip romantic comedy … about abortion. Planned Parenthood Federation of America consulted extensively on the film’s script, and key scenes were shot at one of Planned Parenthood’s health centers in New York.
The film stars Jenny Slate (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation) as stand-up comedian Donna and Jack Lacy (The Office) as a kind stranger named Max, with whom she has a one-night stand — leading to her pregnancy. The movie’s dark humor revolves around the many difficulties stacking up in Donna’s life, from being betrayed by a cheating boyfriend and losing her job, to being faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
Thanks to Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the film, our volunteers were given the opportunity to attend advance screenings of Obvious Child. After attending one such screening in Tucson on June 24, our bloggers Matt and Anna shared their thoughts on the film. (Warning: There are some spoilers.)
Would I recommend this movie to my grandmother?
Anna: I was talking about the premise of Obvious Child with my grandmother, who is very supportive of abortion rights. I told her, “I’m going to see a romantic comedy about abortion!” She replied that she didn’t know how you’d make a comedy about abortion, and was curious to hear my thoughts. Now, I wouldn’t recommend it to her because of the bountiful references to bodily functions. I cringe a bit to think of her watching certain scenes.
However, while I think many people are uncomfortable with women doing “gross-out” comedies, I’m also interested in portrayals of women as fully embodied human beings. It flies in the face of this very old-fashioned conception of women as pure and innocent, and men as brutes. It’s almost an expression of manliness to belch, to sweat profusely — whereas women must conceal these bodily functions at all costs.
Matt: It’s refreshing, too, that Max was so comfortable with Donna’s indiscretion in that regard. He went along with it when she joked about wearing diapers, and the subject of farts was definitely not off limits to them. A lot of this movie is about Donna’s freedom over her own body — not just her decision to have an abortion, but also her openness about her bodily functions, no matter what gender expectations that defies.
Anna: Yeah, it was refreshing to see Donna talk so frankly about the female body and bodily functions — pubic hair, menstruation, flatulence, diarrhea, vaginal secretions, and everything in between. Acknowledging that women have bodily functions, and therefore bodies, is the first step to recognizing that they are entitled to autonomy over their bodies. I’m not normally a fan of gross-out comedies, but I like that a film like this one subverts the idea that women don’t have normal human bodies with full functionality — it portrays them in all their supposedly “gross” glory.
Additionally, I actually think that my grandmother would be pretty impressed with the way that the film handled the abortion scene. I thought it was a very sensitive portrayal. The film was funny when it needed to be, but it was not flippant, and it dealt deftly with a very important issue.
Did the movie make abortion funny?
Matt: It manages to make us laugh with a lot of low-brow humor, but at the same time it approaches the topic of abortion intelligently and thoughtfully. I think it did that by being a serious story that embeds itself in a comedy. It didn’t downplay or dodge an emotionally difficult situation. The comedy was just the story’s environment, and it provided some relief from the emotional intensity of the film.
Anna: The fact that the protagonist and several of her friends were comedians gave them an excuse to put this story in a very humorous context. A lot of people say that comedians tend to deal with pain through humor, which is exactly what the film did as it portrayed a very difficult period in Donna’s life.
Matt: Those characters and their comedy gigs made the subject matter less alienating, I think. The fact that they were comedians also meant you could have expositional monologues in the form of stand-up comedy, which is a lot more entertaining than long voice-overs. And comedy can make an uncomfortable topic easier to face.
Anna: That’s a really good point, and putting it to her that way might help my grandmother wrap her mind around the concept of an “abortion comedy.” It wasn’t all laughs — it didn’t show that abortion was a walk in the park, but also didn’t portray it as necessarily the most emotionally fraught, difficult decision of someone’s life. People have different reactions after an abortion, from sadness to relief. The scene in which Donna was getting the abortion, you could see her complicated reaction to the unbelievable weight that she had been carrying. The film was neither overwrought nor flippant about the subject matter.
Will this film change minds?
Matt: Do you think this movie would change the mind of someone who’s on the fence about abortion, or does it speak to those of us who are already committed to abortion rights?
Anna: It’s hard to say, because it’s hard for me to imagine myself as a fence-sitter on this issue. Definitely, a lot of viewers will be able to see someone they can relate to. It was a warts-and-all portrayal of a pretty normal twenty-something. You could feel for her in the beginning when she got dumped in a nasty bathroom with people walking back and forth zipping their flies up. What a horrible way to get dumped.
Matt: In spite of her flaws, Donna was a very charismatic and likable character. I think a lot of people will watch the movie and wish they had her honesty and humility.
Anna: But, as to whether or not it would change minds, I’m not sure if this is even a film that was made with that intent. Maybe it was just made to tell a common story that doesn’t really get told by Hollywood, despite the fact that one out of three American women has made this decision. It was an unapologetic portrayal of abortion that didn’t invite judgment. How refreshing to see that, rather than watching Juno be given false information by an abortion opponent, or Ruth being chased around by activists on both sides of the issue in Citizen Ruth. In Obvious Child, Donna made the decision that was right for her, end of story. No one gave her guff, and her friends and family supported her.
Matt: I agree. She mentioned her readiness to be a mother — or lack of readiness. It’s not just a matter of your emotional or your financial state or where you are in your career planning, but also whether you’re ready for it as a person. And she wasn’t ready at that point.
Anna: No, and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t even matter what we think. Whatever kind of judgments we make about this character and her situation, they don’t matter. The only thing that matters is she didn’t feel ready to have a child at that time.
Final thoughts …
Anna: I liked her mother’s reaction. When she expressed relief, I thought it was because she didn’t think Donna was ready for a baby. But when she revealed that she’d had an illegal abortion, I thought maybe the relief was that her daughter was able to have a safe abortion, performed by an accountable provider, not on the kitchen table in a stranger’s apartment. For someone who had undergone an illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade, it must be a huge relief to know that your daughter won’t have to go through the same thing.
It was a great film, evoking a wide range of emotions. There were laugh-out-loud moments, parts where I was cringing, as well as some very poignant moments, both sad and sweet. Four out of five stars!
Matt: Yeah, I think I would give it five stars. We needed a movie like this, and it was a great movie to fill that need.
Obvious Child opens nationwide today, so check it out! See the trailer below: