Nobody gives birth in the abortion-themed romantic comedy Obvious Child. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any labor involved in watching it. A flat-footed attempt to say something serious about abortion, while also stuffing the rote plotline with crude bathroom and sex jokes, the movie’s only redeeming qualities are its sporadic moments of emotional truth and a blunt use of the A-word.
It’s been awhile since an American film confronted the abortion issue and thankfully Obvious Child avoids the pussyfooting that marred both Juno and Knocked Up, two popular comedies from the last decade centered around unwanted pregnancies in which the women couldn’t even say “abortion” let alone commit to having one. But while this film is more honest about the certainty of going through with the procedure, it’s also hampered by its tiresome, recognizable milieu of creative egoists who seem utterly disconnected from the social and political world beyond their hermetic horizons.
Obvious Child plays out among that movie-ready subset of Brooklyn Millennials who apparently spend most of their time gazing at their own genitalia and discussing the expulsion of bodily fluids. As Donna, the potty-mouthed comedienne scrapping together a living working at a bookstore and performing self-deprecating standup routines at a local club, Jenny Slate is intermittently endearing and annoying. If this formerSNL cast member and voice of YouTube’s Marcel the Shell proves anything with this performance, it is that she is a better dramatic actor than a comedian.
Where is it written nowadays that comics must giggle at their own jokes or even at sentences that tie the jokes together? If every mundane utterance is delivered as a punchline, then nothing is a punchline.
Donna/Jenny's comedy act is not only unfunny and filthy, it’s also blithely humiliating toward others. First, she reveals sensitive secrets about her current boyfriend, after which he dumps her. Later, she announces her upcoming abortion to an audience that includes the father-not-to-be, Max (Jake Lacy), who is hearing this news for the first time. Since much of the film is built around the contrived suspense of “when will she tell him,” I suppose this moment counts as the movie’s denouement. But it is merely the deflated, penultimate end to a strained story of ignored opportunities and awkward coincidences.
The fact that Obvious Child manages to generate any warmth at all can be attributed to Slate and Lacy’s low-burner chemistry, and to the supporting performances of Donna’s best friend (Gaby Hoffmann), and mother (Polly Draper, who Baby Boomers may remember from the quintessential '80s TV series, Thirtysomething). When Donna/Jenny isn’t busy over-elaborating her fart jokes or chuckling about her smelly underpants, she is convincing as a young woman who not only takes her body seriously but deserves a nice guy like Max who, for once, isn’t some unshaven, unmannered shlub. He's actually good-looking, thoughtful and perhaps employable.
Slate and Lacy’s best scenes together are a foreplay dance set to the ebullient, titular song by Paul Simon, and a charming post-abortion snuggle reminiscent of The Descendants. Don’t worry; I didn’t just spoil the ending.
The one other commendable feature of Obvious Child is that there is never any handwringing about the future of Donna’s unborn baby. It is most certainly aborted. That, dear audience, is no joke.
This post originally appear on Rustin Thompson's "The Restless Critic" Blog.
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