Do a little dance, make a little love and getting down tonight sometimes results in one of the most common accidents women face today–pregnancy. It also results in one of the most glaring movie slogans of the year: “This is a romantic comedy…about abortion.”
Do I have your attention yet? Production company A24 (Under the Skin, Spring Breakers, The Spectacular Now) made a risque decision to splatter a quote containing the phrase “abortion comedy” on the poster. In response A24 founder David Fenkel said, “That’s in a quote on our poster. But it’s just one of the quotes. We didn’t shy away from the word ‘abortion,’ but we didn’t want to wear it on our sleeve either.”
Sure it’s a funny movie, with a strong female cast and revolves around the unapologetic decision of abortion, but Obvious Child has more layers worth investing your time in than dismissing it by it’s slogan. The film explores the “dark side” of the road less traveled and does so with grace and raw emotion.
Obvious Child is the directorial debut of Gillian Robespierre (based on her 2009 short film) and follows Brooklyn standup comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) who gets dumped, fired and knocked up on a one-night-stand in only a few months. Donna drunkenly turns the conversation upside down on stage by effortlessly letting the word “abortion” glide off her tongue after recently discovering she got knocked-up by her rebound romance. The general emotion from the crowd as well as the film audience is unanimous–complete discomfort. Obvious Child propels one of the most vulnerable and taboo topics of conversation and humanizes it in a mere hour and a half. The film also stars Jake Lacy, Gabby Hoffmann and David Cross and has all the ingredients of an extended episode of HBO’s Girls…without an agenda.
Movies like Juno and Knocked Up explore the light at the end of the tunnel by taking responsibility and educating audiences on alternative options outside of abortion. While sincere and potentially realistic, these movies fail to realize that not everyone has that option. As Jenny Slate calls it “a complex choice” and a choice that should be more open than shunned. Regardless, Obvious Child is getting people to finally talk.
But the road to get Obvious Child on the big screen was a team endeavor that started small and grew to epic proportions with the help of it’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and production company A24 picking up the project for US release.
“The short was not originally written with Jenny (Slate) in mind but then when Jenny said yes to it, it really took off. She really understood the characters. She really brought her to life in nuances that only Jenny has. When we sat down in the editing room, it was magical. When we released it on to the internet and festivals—it played Rooftop to 4,000 people! It was scary. I was very shaky. It ignited a conversation that encouraged me to continue and tell it in a bigger way because no one really watches short films. When I sat down to write the feature, it was always going to be for Jenny because she was such an amazing collaborator on the short. She had such an insight into my brain and Donna’s brain that it was never going to be any other way. We just wanted to bring a tone of authenticity and realism to movie-making in a way that we hadn’t seen in romantic comedies before, and bring a character to life who had previously always been sort of dull, and always blonde and unbelievable, and not relatable, and make that character somebody we recognize, that we could laugh with, and laugh at and relate to. So that’s sort of where it started.” Robespierre via The Dissolve
Jenny Slate may not be a household name, but her role as Donna in Obvious Child is going to open many doors for the funny gal. In the fall of 2009, Slate became a cast member on Saturday Night Live. During her first show, she accidentally dropped an f-bomb during a skit, and the show didn’t renew her contract. Slate has a recurring role on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show, and on Parks and Recreation she plays Mona Lisa Saperstein. She has also appeared on Bob’s Burgers, Girls, House of Lies and the new series Married on FX. Obvious Child was Slate’s first leap as a leading lady in a motion picture, and but she was never dissuaded by tackling the controversial role.
“I have my own personal fears as a performer, but the subject matter didn’t frighten me. It really excited me. I wasn’t afraid. Some of it crossed my mind: What if a crazy fanatic person gets angry with me? There’s also lots of other stuff that I’ve said and done that could put me in that position [laughs]. A lot of people in my family are angry with me. No [laughs]. I was really excited because there are many complicated things with women’s rights. Also, there’s an annoying thing going on in the comedy world where idiots keep saying now is the time for women in comedy. It really pisses me off. Because it’s always been the time and now they’re ready. There were sort of a few things where I was like, ‘I’m going to eat this up.’ I was excited to do it. Mostly, I was excited to portray the experience. She knows she’s going to get the abortion. That’s not the difficult question for her. It’s not her time to have a child. Just because you decide to have an abortion or are pro-choice in general doesn’t mean it’s not complicated. It doesn’t mean that life doesn’t present itself with many different options. Those pull at you and make you consider who you are and where you’ll go. Sometimes it feels like that experience is robbed from us because we have to be so stalwart. Like, ‘This is my choice. I’m pro-choice.’ I think it’s important to show you can be sensitive and doubtful and laugh even when you’re making a very strong and personal choice. I was pumped.” Jenny Slate via Huffington Post
Despite what you may think of the film without seeing it, the film has no agenda, and that’s the agenda. I applaud Robespierre and Slate for taking a bold move into such hush-hush territory with laughs, fart jokes and tears, but the script was too predictably formulated to hold my interest. It’s one of those movies that unfolds almost entirely in the trailer. There’s one pivotal scene upheld by Slate while going to the clinic, which raises the movie onto that emotionally, complex tier of it’s own.