Last year, Lake Bell’s wonderful “In a World”
stuck to the conventional tenets of a romantic comedy while featuring the
feminist theme of a woman trying to make it in the sexist industry of trailer
voiceovers. This year, Gillian Robespierre’s equally winning
“Obvious Child,” which bowed at Sundance and opens June 6 via A24, similarly sticks to the rom-com
arc while throwing in a gutsy curveball: The film’s main woman and man fall in
love while getting an abortion.
That main woman would be Donna (Jenny Slate, charismatic and
funny as hell), a twentysomething stand-up comedian, who cracks jokes about her
Jewish looks, flatulence and daily panty stains at a small Brooklyn dive bar.
She’s been dumped by her boyfriend, and is pickling in break-up booze when she
meets Max (Jake Lacy), a straight-arrow business student wearing the decidedly
non-Brooklyn attire of a crisp button-up and boat shoes. You probably know the
story from here: These two polar-opposite types hook up, she gets accidentally
pregnant, and it takes them several weeks of flirting and fighting to realize
they may mean more to each other than just a one-night stand.
Robespierre’s crisp direction and Slate’s infectious
personality would be enough to carry such a story even if those were its only
aspirations, but they opt for a different route. Donna realizes that — duh — having a baby at this point in her life would be fairly disastrous: She’s low
on income, low on interest in child-rearing, and low on the emotional maturity
needed to do so. Like many twentysomethings of the twenty-first century, Donna
is the obvious child of the title. So, with
little ado (but with some drawn-out difficulty telling Max), she goes for the abortion.
And now for an observation. In the instances that abortion
does make its way into romance-oriented films, it usually goes something like
this: 1) the leading lady gets pregnant, 2) the leading lady considers an
abortion, and then 3) the leading lady opts to keep the child. Thus such films
broach the “edgy” possibility of an abortion without actually sacrificing any
of the non-crowdpleasing effects that an abortion might have on the storyline.
(Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s “Juno” would be the salient example.)
So hats off to Robespierre and Slate. They’ve managed to
deliver a film with actual edge, which somehow retains the characteristics that
any successful romantic comedy should have: It’s heartwarming, romantic and
very funny (and, significantly, at no point do they downplay the emotional
ramifications an abortion can have on a woman). This is the type of
crowd-pleaser we could use more of.