Abortion. Did you read that word and suddenly go stiff? Did you start sweating? Momentarily stop breathing? Feel at least a small shock? Wouldn't blame you. The word gets all sorts of reactions, but the thing is, it gets a reaction. So if you're going to even address it in a movie, you better make sure you know what you're doing. Luckily, “Obvious Child” not only knows what it's doing, it puts it in a romantic comedy. It may be a movie about a woman, but you can't deny it's got some serious balls.
Like most comedies, “Obvious Child” is about a protagonist who's at a low point. Twenty-something Donna Stern's (Jenny Slate) boyfriend has just dumped her for another woman, the bookstore she works in is shutting down, and she finds herself unable to do the one thing she's best at: her stand-up comedy.
But it's about to get worse. After she crashes and burns onstage, she has a drunken one-night stand that leaves her pregnant. Knowing she's not even close to ready for parenthood, she decides to get an abortion. But there could be a silver lining, because the guy that knocked her up (Jake Lacy, who is unaware of her pregnancy and her decision) actually seems really nice.
But Donna's situation never threatens to overwhelm the character. She firmly remains a person, and her choice remains that, a choice. It helps that she makes it after we've gotten to know her a bit. Even more interestingly, she never questions or wavers in her decision, and her friends and family don't judge or even try to dissuade her. There's not even a reference to any sort of punishment, a regular staple of a female character who even shows a single sign of being anything other than an approved set of relatable characteristics. The other women in her life even share their stories very frankly. But “Obvious Child” really isn't interested in arguing about abortion, it's simply stating in a very matter-of-fact way what one woman's choice is. It turns out, many of the women around her have made that same choice too. But it's par for the course in her world.
That said, it does have a few retreads. Is Donna going to be hesitant and almost screw things up with the nice guy? And does he border on too good to be true? (Do I even have to answer?) Then there's the gay best friend (Gabe Liedman), the more logical, rational roomie (Gabby Hoffman) who is the compassionate voice of reason, and the close relationship with her supportive parents. And Donna may have the usual self-deprecation and deeply flawed human being credentials, but she practically wears her privilege like a second skin, what with her casual references to her agent, her parents' connections, work, and just her opportunities in general. Sure, she loses her job and does need some kind income, but money worries don't really seem to be much of an issue with her, since she doesn't seem to need to work all that much.
But luckily, “Obvious Child” has Jenny Slate when it starts to sag. She has the comedic chops to pull it off and make it work. She reveals way too much about her life (and personal hygiene) and the lives of those around her onstage, her quirks border on being off-putting, but throughout it all she remains deeply sympathetic, funny, and compulsively watchable. But if you don't like her brand of comedy, there's not much to be done, and no efforts made on your behalf.