Humor can effectively be used to explore some of the darkest and most controversial topics. The little known French film, The Train of Life successfully introduces us to the seemingly unthinkable genre of holocaust comedy. Obvious Child, starring comedian Jenny Slate, is another example of approaching harsh topics by dealing with them with a sense of humor. This time, the subject is abortion.
Not counting Juno, which doesn’t address the issue much beyond one scene, this is probably the first film that could be called an “abortion comedy.” Though it is certainly a “life comedy,” and a “romantic comedy,” enough of the plot is centered around Slate’s character’s reproductive decision to earn it the more controversial label.
Playing something of a fictionalized version of herself, Slate is Donna Stern, a struggling stand up comedian whose brand of humor is brutally honest, bordering on offensive, and certainly self deprecating. She has mastered the art of using R rated material for laughs without resorting to typical immature antics that so crassly populate much of the adult comedy genre. As a young woman trying to find her way in the world, things seem to be going more or less alright until her boyfriend dumps her, she finds out she’s losing her job, and a drunken one night stand, Max, (Jack Lacy) ends up resulting in a surprise pregnancy. Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, and Polly Draper also appear.
On the surface this is actually quite a funny film with well timed, biting humor – observational comedy that would make Seinfeld blush. Beyond the wit, the evolving chemistry between Donna and Max is sweet and real. The supporting cast does an excellent job as well. So why don’t I like it more? The overall message is cheap – a faux-progressive “look at me being daring,” story that boils abortion down to being just something a modern woman can do when she’s brave enough to take control of her life.
In the context of the story, I don’t really care what Donna’s ultimate decision is, as long as there is weight given to it other than some fear of what her mother might think and a concern over the monetary cost and possible discomfort. I don’t care if you think the procedure is like removing a mole – discarding some excess cells – or if you believe that life begins at conception and ending it at any stage is immoral or even the same as murder. I’m not here to debate any of that. I’m here to say that in this film, what is presented as a heroic example of exercising control of one’s life, instead glamorizes a selfish attitude of a woman who cares only about herself. She thinks about how her situation – pregnancy or abortion – will affect her and her alone. She reflects that the father deserves to know, but doesn’t seem to ponder whether he deserves an opinion. She frets over not wanting this, but doesn’t stop to wonder what her potential child might be like. Everything this film tries to portray as self affirming bravery is, in fact, selfish cowardice.
This opinion will be lynched as backwards and anti-feminist. All I can tell you is what I got out of it, and that is the celebration of selfishness and a not so subtle push at normalizing a society that runs to use a life preventing/ending medical procedure just because you made a mistake you don’t want to take responsibility for. Yes there is a scene where Donna lets a few tears drop, inserted just so the director can say, “see, she felt bad!” But then, two scenes later, the fuzzy ending says “look how much better MY life is because I didn’t give it to another.”
I can’t completely fail this film because, yes, parts are hilarious, and many characters likeable, much of the time. But I can’t justify separating that from a poorly constructed harmful message masquerading as something positive. Since when is taking the easy way out something to celebrate?
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Two out of five hats
Obvious Child aborts a limited number of theaters, June 13
One thought on “Review – Obvious Child”
Actually I completely agreed with this review. I’m pro-choice and a feminist, and have counseled women who’ve had abortions. I was really hoping this movie would present mainstream audiences with a humorous and hopeful, optimistic message for pregnant woman who’ve had an abortion, and am both disappointed and angry with how it was handled. Being pro-choice does NOT mean exulting in having an abortion and only thinking about yourself- it is an awful experience, and one that a woman does not make lightly and selfishly. It’s about having to make a choice, and to find strength in yourself, and the support of others, in order to recover. I was excited to hear about this movie and its attempt to present the debate with humor, and was just left disappointed. This movie almost seems like ammunition for anti-abortion supporters.