So much has been said about this movie being a genius take on an abortion-themed romcom. I beg to differ. I would like to plead that Obvious Child is obviously so much more. Give me a chance to explain that in this review.
Obvious Child is easily one of the strongest directorial debut movies I’ve ever seen. I’m all here for the positives but I really need to explain a delusion people are having before I go ahead. Let’s take a second and understand why this movie is being heralded as ‘a cultural landmark’, ‘an honest portrayal of abortion’, and what not. I believe taking the taboo concept of abortion and trying to fit it in the genre of comedy, even romantic-comedy is far too risky. Far too delicate to play with. The first thing that comes to mind is, abortion is unpleasant, whatever may be the circumstances. Secondly, this movie is supposed to be funny? What can possibly be funny about aborting an unborn child? Nothing.
When you watch this movie keeping those thoughts in mind, and you see Obvious Child for what it actually is, I imagine you’d breathe out a sigh of relief. You’ll chide yourself for being ridiculous enough to expect a dark, slapstick comedy about a woman who isn’t prepared for a child, or a man who doesn’t know he got someone pregnant and now she has to go through it alone, or worse; rape pregnancy. When you see how effortlessly the plot unravels, all your apprehensions will fade to black. For the most part, Obvious Child is not about abortion. I cannot fathom why it’s being sold for what it’s not when it’s actually so good and should be recognized for that instead.
The story follows a twenty-something stand-up comedian named Donna (Jenny Slate) who has a queer teenage sense-of-humour and mostly ends up making jokes about her sex life, her stained underwear and other body parts related clichéd limericks. Donna brings to her act an emotional twist even though her jokes are almost borderline ridiculous. She is completely herself when she’s up there and that’s what nine odd people attending her show in a Brooklyn bar appreciate and enjoy. Donna’s boyfriend – also present at said bar – cannot appreciate having his private sex life being put on display for people to laugh at and breaks up with her. Or that’s the reason he uses while he has already started seeing someone else. Right from this moment, the movie puts you on the edge of your seat because it’s not easy to predict what Donna will say or do next. However, she is like any other twenty year old and drinks and drunk dials and cries herself to sleep with the aid of her best friend. Still no mention of abortions.
After this point, Obvious Child picks up pace as we see more of Donna’s life, her separated parents and her two best friends who sometimes have no boundaries. Donna’s stand-up comedy goes for a toss after her breakup and she is unable to make even poor underwear related jokes. All of this and the fact that the bookstore she’s working at is supposed to shut down only add to her miserable situation. Amidst everything, you see Donna brood, laugh, worry, overreact and it’s all so endearing. You almost want to hug her and tell her that it happens to everyone at some point and she’s actually doing pretty well considering everything going on. So when Donna meets a really nice guy at the bar, you have no problem when he wants to take her home. Even when they both are drunk and peeing on the road, really. Never before have I found this to be funny and don’t think I’m being morbid but halfway through the movie and there’s still no sign of a pregnancy much less a damn abortion. And I’m really enjoying the movie at this point and even laughing out loud, which is a rare but good sign.
Fairly predictable is the one-night stand and Donna’s reluctance at getting into anything further with the boy named Max who is albeit, too eager to get to know Donna’s hilarity. It’s adorable that Max is very much the opposite of her cheating ex-boyfriend, but it’s also rough that he’s the one who gets her pregnant. Leaving her with no choice but to visit the doctor and say something on the lines, “I would like an abortion, please!” as though she is ordering food at a drive-through.
What follows next are the simple and cute interactions between Max trying to woo Donna who is all too afraid and confused about someone being this nice to her. Not forgetting that she is scheduled to abort his child on February 14th and intends on keeping it a secret from him. Irony in this movie is immense but completely enjoyable. All in all, the movie takes a cutesy turn towards the end as Donna figures out how to deal with herself, her decisions and her love life. It’s amazing how she goes back on stage and makes fun of herself for getting into a mess. Again, Max who happens to turn up at the bar is not pleased to find out about this through her act and walks out of the bar. However, Donna is not perturbed this time as she knows how she feels about this and what’s right for her. How well she does on stage is an indication at how well she handles things that are not so right in her life. Her act goes pretty well despite mentions of an abortion and she has her shit together now. Figuratively and comically, of course.
Obvious Child is a movie that got promoted on a concept it wasn’t entirely intending to depend on. Yes, the movie handles the subject of abortion quite smartly. There are some brilliant depictions of the crisis Donna faces, for example, when she equates the amount required to get an abortion to her one month’s rent. Men like Max are not made-up, fairy tale princes but they do exist and sometimes they don’t know how to do the right thing, right away but they come around eventually. When you consider the fact that there is so much more to this movie it seems almost demeaning to hail it as simply ‘an abortion comedy’ on the lines of Knocked Up or Juno. The fact that the title of the movie was based on a Paul Simon song is enough to convince me that the makers of this film have more depth, understanding and insight than they are being incorrectly, if not unfairly credited for.