The World’s First “Abortion Comedy”: Obvious Child

06/04/2014 4:00 AM |

Obvious Child
Directed by Gillian Robespierre

Earlier this year, San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film released its annual “Celluloid Ceiling” study, which revealed that the number of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles had fallen to a mere 16 percent, less than in 1998. Although CSWTF’s sample is the 250 top-grossing domestic films of the previous year, the absence of women above and below the line is a problem that’s endemic to the medium: 15 out of the 49 films at Cannes this year were directed by women, and, despite all the thinkpieces Girls generates, a similarly paltry number of women are working on indie productions, evinced by any number of year’s best lists—or by doing a headcount while walking past a street shoot.

These numbers are easy to gloss over, and just as easily copy/pasted into a series of tweets that bolster your “callout queen” brand. A more concrete solution beyond raising awareness would likely involve financial incentives, but so would an increase in films that are actually representative of women’s experiences. (The pervading notion that only men go to see movies is perpetuated by movies geared toward men, while the content of romantic comedies are infrequently emotionally truthful or funny.) Obvious Child, which has the dubious honor of being the world’s first “abortion comedy,” dismantles the usual dynamics of women onscreen as well as pervading myths about unwanted pregnancy. Donna (Jenny Slate) is a stand-up who has a regular open mic and not much else—so when she gets laid off and finds out her boyfriend has been cheating on her, she goes into a tailspin that involves a lot of drinking (but only one one-night stand). When she finds out that she’s pregnant, there’s no question what she has to do—there’s no Juno or Knocked Up fantasy of “pulling up your bootstraps” and becoming a suitable parent. Instead, much of her agonizing comes from how to tell different people in her life about her decision, including her fratty “sperm donor.”

Aside from the fact that abortion is rarely presented as even an option in popular film, when it is present, the actual procedure is often punctuated by the death of the mother (for pure dramatic effect). Abortion is therefore always tragedy, never relief—an implicit moral judgment. The humor in Obvious Child never trivializes its characters’ feelings, but instead provides a balance (as once character notes, there are much worse things happening in the world) and the ability to explore more nuanced emotional situations. One of the most genuinely moving moments is between Donna and her mother (Polly Draper)—a rarity for films about aimless Brooklyn twentysomethings. Further, the humor allows a character who would be otherwise the sexless, harmless “sassy best friend” instead to be the leading lady: she’s genuinely funny and (most amazing of all) guys are attracted to her because of it. (And, as that last bit might hint at, Obvious Child has actual men, not overgrown man children, in it.) Here’s to the end of four hour waits at Planned Parenthood, shitty rom-coms, and no women behind the camera.

Opens June 6