'Obvious Child':The so-called abortion comedy

Posted: June 20, 2014

WHEN IT COMES to movies about unplanned pregnancies, ultraliberal Hollywood is surprisingly squeamish on the subject of abortion.

The most famous example of this is "Knocked Up," about a gorgeous and with-it single woman who decides to go forward with her one-night-stand pregnancy, even though it means trying to make a suitable mate out of unemployed potbellied pothead pornographer Seth Rogen.

Alternatives were not considered. The word abortion was not mentioned - one character describes a procedure to terminate the pregnancy as something that rhymes with "smashmortion."

Some women found the scenario unrealistic.

Enter "Obvious Child," an independent picture that delivers raunchy laughs in the manner of "Knocked Up" (none, tactfully, about abortion) while telling the story of a young woman who decides to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.

She's Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a stand-up comedian and bookstore worker who loses her job, her boyfriend and her sobriety, and in a stupor goes home with a handsome man (Jake Lacy), waking up with a dim memory of helping the guy with his condom. You've heard of the "conscious uncoupling"? This is more like a semiconscious coupling.

Director Gillian Robespierre arranges this as slice-of-single-life comedy, and it works well, though the movie's mood changes when Donna becomes pregnant and she begins to take stock of her not-so-funny predicament - single, jobless, uninsured, penniless.

Slate is known for her comedy work - a brief stint on SNL, some recurring roles on "Parks and Recreation" and "The Kroll Show." In "Obvious Child," playing lead and veering into drama, she stretches impressively.

Donna, like Slate, is an offbeat stand-up with mercilessly autobiographical material that borders on the merciless - she spares neither herself nor her audience, which gets more details than it needs on the content of Donna's underwear.

Slate carries this off, then gives us more - showing the layer of disquiet just underneath Donna's casual boho surface.

We see that she's terrified to tell her mother (Polly Draper) about her pregnancy, though it's ultimately not clear why, since everyone around Donna supports her decision to get an abortion. This includes the man who impregnated her, a fellow she treats rather shabbily - his resilient good nature, his golden retriever eagerness, is the least believable thing in a movie that aims to embrace tough realities.

All of this has led some to accuse the movie of smug "blue state high-fiving," and it's true there is no one to take the other side of the argument.

Would that make "Obvious Child" better? Instinct tells us we want balance, but movies that reflexively provide it are often binary, political and dull.

"Obvious Child" tries for something very different in its climactic moments at the Planned Parenthood clinic. The movie goes almost dialogue-free, the voluble Donna finally goes silent and the movie acquires a documentary feel that speaks to its mission - to note, for the record, that whether you are Juno MacGuff or Donna Stern, you have a story to tell.

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