Directed: Gillian Roberspierre
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
For my next #52FilmsByWomen viewing I decided to go for something recent and fell upon 2014’s Obvious Child, a female-centric comedy drama that I was drawn to because of Gaby Hoffmann’s involvement. I am a huge Hoffmann fan after seeing her in Girls and Transparent, so when I saw she was in Obvious Child and that it was directed by a woman it became essential viewing.
Obvious Child began life as a short film and tells the story of twenty-something Donna (Jenny Slate) who finds out she is pregnant after a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy) and decides to have an abortion. The premise alone is brave considering abortion continues to be a near-untouchable taboo in cinema. Even the more daring films such as Juno sort of skirt past the issue, making Obvious Child a breath of fresh air in its frank tackling of the subject.
In spite of the taboo subject matter, Obvious Child is surprisingly and refreshingly unpolitical. Sure, there is most likely a political message tucked in there somewhere, but it’s a subtle one and it is clear from the beginning that the film isn’t so much about peddling a pro-choice argument than telling the story of one woman’s experience with an unplanned pregnancy.
The first act isn’t great and the set-up is done to death – woman gets dumped, gets wasted, loses her job etc. – but once the plot has been established the film really hits its stride. Jenny Slate plays Donna with comic vulnerability and in a way that is sure to strike a chord with any woman who has found herself in a less than ideal situation. Jake Lacy is equally charming as Max, whilst Gaby Hoffman appears in a brilliant supporting turn as Donna’s best friend and room-mate Nellie.
The supporting cast are excellent, with David Cross even showing up for a hilarious extended cameo, but the film rests entirely on Slate’s shoulders. The humour is crude in a way that probably won’t sit well with every viewer – vagina jokes are commonplace – but there is a lot of heart beneath the vulgarity and the film finds more success in it’s dramatic moments than it’s funny ones.
In her review for The Nation, Michelle Goldberg argues that the film’s narrative is actually quite conventional in spite of its tackling of a sensitive subject matter, and this is true to an extent. The abortion route is different and little explored in film, but the rest of the story we are presented with is pretty standard indie rom-com fare. This is not a bad thing as such, but it can be easy to overstate how inventive Obvious Child is due to it’s brave tackling of abortion.
That said, there is enough going on here to make it feel refreshing and the film is a great example of how you don’t need overt political messages to communicate ideas. Obvious Child is a fun and charming film about a subject that is anything but fun and charming, so it’s certainly doing something right.
Obvious Child is available to stream on Netflix UK.