Opens Fri., June 20 at Guild 45th and Lincoln Square. Rated R. 85 minutes.
Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, this movie has already been pegged as the abortion rom-com, which is great for the posters and pull-quotes but isn’t strictly accurate. Those hostile, antithetical terms trigger harsh reactions from both the right (We hate abortion!) and left (We hate rom-coms!). Yet Obvious Child confounds those volleys of easy scorn. It doesn’t embrace abortion. It doesn’t endorse cheesy love matches between unlikely partners. What it does—winningly, amusingly, credibly—is convey how a young woman right now in Brooklyn might respond to news of an unplanned pregnancy. And this fateful information comes for Donna (SNL’s excellent Jenny Slate) after being dumped by her boyfriend, told that her bookstore day job is about to end, and rejected at her comedy club, where a drunken stand-up set of TMI implodes into self-pity and awkward audience silence. (“I don’t have any secrets” is her comic mantra.) Donna wants to tell the world about her love life and its consequences, to make jokes about it; but suddenly she’s alone when the A-word comes up.
But Donna Stern c’est moi. Her abrupt isolation and fear is the human condition. It’s the norm when biological happenstance so rudely intervenes. Obvious Child is foremost a comedy, and it treats accidental pregnancy—caused by an earnest, likable Vermont dork in Top Siders, played by Jake Lacy from The Office—as one of life’s organic pratfalls, like cancer, childbirth, or the death of one’s parents. These are things that happen to us all (all of us generally being unprepared), the cosmic banana peels that cannot be avoided. All you can do is laugh about them, or cry, or both in Donna’s case.
With its jokes about dog poo, drunk dialing, and farts, Obvious Child hardly comes bearing an agenda. If anything, expanded from Robespierre’s short, the lurching script could stand more polish and the supporting characters more depth. (You want to see more of Richard Kind and Polly Draper as Donna’s divorced parents.) But as we laugh and wince at her heroine’s behavior, Robespierre gets the tone exactly right in Obvious Child. The movie doesn’t “normalize” abortion or diminish the decision to get one. Rather, we see how it doesn’t have to be a life-altering catastrophe, and how from the ruins of a one-night stand a new adult might be formed.