Decisions, Decisions

Obvious Child is the best comedy of 2014 (so far)

Let’s answer your most pressing question about Obvious Child: Yes, Paul Simon’s song “Obvious Child” appears in the movie. Twice!

Unless you’ve been avoiding press about film since January, you know Obvious Child is a romantic comedy in which the main character, Donna (Jenny Slate), has an abortion. But that’s not entirely what the movie is about; it’s a complete tale of a woman at an important point in her life. The decision to have an abortion is one of many things that happens in Donna’s world throughout the movie.

But with that plot point comes a lot of baggage. There hasn’t been a movie since roughly 1982 (Fast Times at Ridgemont High for those keeping score at home) that treats abortion as a judgment-free fact of life. Slate used the phrase “matter-of-fact” in a recent interview with CBC’s Q radio, and that’s the best way to describe the movie’s handling of Donna’s decision. (Alexander Payne’s 1996 film Citizen Ruth treats abortion as spectacle.)

And here’s the kicker: Obvious Child is funny as shit. It’s possibly the most laugh-out-loud comedy of 2014. The fact that it features a character who terminates a pregnancy will no doubt piss off a lot of people. And maybe it will change minds about abortion (though I doubt it), but it does something important: It treats women with respect and their health decisions with respect. It’s worth noting that Obvious Child is written and directed by Gillian Robespierre (a woman, in case you’re wondering).

Donna is a struggling stand-up comedian who works in a bookstore during the day. After one stand-up set when she reveals too much about her personal life, her boyfriend dumps her; he’s been resenting her openness on stage for months. Then she loses her job when she’s told the bookstore is closing. Then she has a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy), a guy she meets after a show. They’re both so drunk she can’t remember whether they used a condom (her hazy recollections make for a few good scenes).

When Donna discovers she’s pregnant, she decides almost immediately—though not without serious consideration—to have an abortion. Slate’s performance in the doctor’s office is awards caliber, and she schedules the procedure for Valentine’s Day.

Donna leans on her friends for support, including her roommate, Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann). Her mother (Polly Draper), with whom she usually butts heads, also becomes a source of support.

Then Obvious Child goes on being a movie about a human woman living her life. It can’t be overstated how refreshing it is to hear characters in a movie use the word “abortion” without shame or judgment, or to use the word at all (I’m looking at you, Knocked Up).

Romantic comedies seem to feature two jobs for women: Successful magazine writers who never report and world-class PR mavens by age 27 (does any Hollywood screenwriter actually know anyone in PR?). It’s a boon to the genre to see someone real, flawed and whole. But Obvious Child isn’t just a romantic comedy, and it’s not just about abortion. It’s about time someone made a funny movie that reflects real life.


Directed by Gillian Robespierre

With Slate, Lacy and David Cross

Cinemark 14 Downtown, ABQ. Santa Fe theater TBD

85 min.

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