It's awfully depressing to have to write about how appreciative you are that a movie was made that has the "guts" to tackle the issue of abortion in a frank, genuine and unfearful manner- let's be honest, this is 2014 and the fact that a movie like Obvious Child is considered controversial speaks to a sad and terribly regressed state of affairs. But if I'm being honest in another way, I don't think I've ever seen a movie that speaks so candidly and truthfully, and communicates the way real women actually talk about abortion, than this one, which is in many ways a light coming of age comedy. It's even sadder to say this is a film that needed to be made, but it did, and it makes all manner of sense that it was written and directed by a woman, who knows and is familiar with how this issue is confronted in reality, as opposed to the bizarro way abortion is treated in movies, where it's so obvious that the subject is broached with so much fear and trepidation that you can't make any statement at all.
Well, Gillian Robespierre, who adapted this movie from her own short film on the topic (which won recognition at Sundance), knows how to deal with it, and that's to simply make it personal. When you tell a personal story, they often wind up universal because the honesty shines through it in every instance. That's certainly the case here, where we are introduced to Donna Stern, a 28-year-old aspiring stand up comic played by Jenny Slate in a fully realized, specific, lived in performance that makes us feel who she is in all her struggles, desires, shortcomings and sense of humor, almost from her first five minutes on screen. Donna is a dorky, ambitious, yet not at all settled in life millennial, whose boyfriend cheats on and dumps her after a set one night, and who is then let go from her part-time job at a failing local bookstore. So right away, we see that things aren't exactly going smoothly, although they could certainly be worse. Donna lives with a roommate who's more like a sister (Gaby Hoffmann) and has a good relationship with both of her parents, who are divorced but have her over for dinner all the time, so they can gently needle her about getting her life in order, but also joke about their own time as a struggling young adult.
We see that Donna's not in a great place, but it seems more like one of those occasionally troubled moments in life before suddenly, on top of everything, she finds out she's gotten pregnant from a rebound one night stand. Now, what was just a bump in the road becomes a potential rest of your life mistake, and Donna knows immediately that she's not going to have a baby. There's no conflict of decision-making here, we know and she knows that it was a mistake that she doesn't deserve to be saddled with from now until forever, and the situation is written so naturally in the conversations that jokester Donna has with her friends, her mom, and eventually the would be father of her child that everyone will recognize the swing of emotions. Donna's of course upset, worried, and regretful of her own mistakes, but she never waivers or thinks she ought not to go through with it. Like millions of women who've dealt with this issue, she knows what has to happen and only wants to go on with her life.
The conflict after that comes from the object of the ill fated hookup, a guy named Max (Jake Lacy) whom she literally just met, but who, when he turns up at her store and wants to take her out to lunch, she realizes she might actually like. The potential awkwardness and the question of whether you can begin to date a guy whose abortion you're going to have raises some strange questions that you might ask yourself if you were ever to be in Donna's shoes. She attempts to field out these unknown areas with a little bit of stumbling, her ever present stable of wisecracks, and the luck that the too good to be true Max actually does turn out to be almost saintlike in his supportiveness and affability. Through all this meandering, the movie drifts between Donna's varying mental state as she continues to forge ahead with life, even though the time between being pregnant and not being pregnant leaves her in an awkward in-between zone as pertains to whatever burgeoning relationship she might want to have with this guy.
There are moments of filler in the movie (a scene with comedian David Cross, who shows up as someone akin to himself, is unnecessary and doesn't work at all), and you can feel that it was lengthened from what was obviously a more focused short film on the clear subject at hand, but the formulaic nature of the screenplay does not prevent it from packing the punch of finally addressing a topic that mostly male filmmakers and writers have been unable to get right. I'm sorry, but I can only hope that Judd Apatow sees this film and wishes he had never written that awful scene in Knocked Up where a bunch of horrified guys sit around gasping at the idea that any reputable woman would ever really consider having a "shmashortion." Yes, it does happen, gentlemen, and it's usually not in a dirty, no good clinic (see Juno for the reference), but in an actual well-lit professional doctor's office, if you can imagine it. And women do this and they're not ruined and they're not miserable and they're not forever scarred with shame. It's unfortunate that this little well-meaning (and very funny) comedy was something that got labeled as controversial for even discussing and portraying this common legal procedure as an option that actually works out, but it's a fact of life that is way too often ignored in both film and television. In spite of that, sometimes movies come along that do reflect life the way it really is for millions of women, and while Knocked Up and Juno were fantasies, this is the one that finally rings true. It's too rare a sight to see.
* * *