A few nights ago my roommates and I went to see Obvious Child, a romcom about a standup comedian (played by former SNL actor Jenny Slate) and her abortion. I did not know what to expect. One roommate was concerned about building up too many feminist expectations in anticipation of this film. We’ve been let down before on the feminist front by films like Don Jon, or Ruby Sparks, and Jenny Slate’s work is hard to pin down, what with Bob’s Burgers and “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” The release date of Obvious Child is tomorrow, so I’ve made it my mission to review it without any spoilers, or at least nothing that can’t be gleaned from the trailer.
All is not rosy in Brooklyn. Donna’s boyfriend and best friend have run off together, her comedy suffers, and after some “light stalking” and a night of drinking and shtupping, she finds out she’s pregnant. In these modern times, abortion is the most sensible option for her. She’s wrecked by the end of her previous relationship, she’s hit rock bottom with her work, and she’s financially unstable. She’s not ready for a child. I find it excellent that there’s no question about the decision that she is making for herself, and it doesn’t mean she isn’t nervous or upset, but it does mean the film and its characters trust her to make the best decision for her body. The way writer and director Gillian Robespierre wrote Obvious Child really stands in stark contrast to movies like Juno or Knocked Up, where abortion is an automatic no-no based on input from secondary characters.
Second: this shit is genuinely funny. Donna Stern gets all the best lines, and has a number of of poop jokes in her arsenal (sorry, had to). Jenny Slate may have been kicked off SNL for dropping the F-bomb, but I had never seen her play anything but exaggerated characters, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Donna’s character as someone so relatable and comparatively unexaggerated. Where one Hollywood dame flirts with the humorless line, “I saw you staring from across the room,” Donna says, “You’re really lasering into me with your pee pee missiles!” I can’t recall seeing a movie where a female main character gets so many good one-liners that the male counterparts seem a bit bland by comparison. You know that regardless of who gets with Donna, she’s going to be the “clever one” in the relationship. And you can either just get fucking used to it and laugh, or nurture your inferiority complex by writing something about how women aren’t funny, and dying before anyone can prove you wrong.
Another thing about the body humor is that it focuses on women’s bodies and women’s experiences in the way that makes women the subject of that humor. This is a big move, considering we have been the brunt and the object of jokes in a way that serves to police our bodies. In my lifetime, I’ve seen women compare notes about whether aspects of their bodies are okay or not okay, because we have been told forever that our bodies are embarrassing, filled with blood and discharge and fetuses, and that we should never talk about any of it.
Not Donna! Donna bares it all (metaphorically speaking) by making vagina jokes in the opening scene in front of a comedy club audience. It’s stuff my roommates and I had never heard spoken openly about before. In fact, her comedy is literally just about her life and finding the humor in it, and being “unapologetically herself.” That’s what makes her character, and ultimately the film, successful. The best part of it is that I saw women I know, the same vulgar humor, the same goofiness, the same charm, the same hurt, the same drunken antics, and the same big personalities (often which get toned down in the company of men), in Donna’s character. If only all of us could be Donna, all the time, making fart noises and being absolutely proud of ourselves.
Obvious Child definitely qualifies as a feminist film. It’s funny, self-aware, it focuses on women’s bodies, personal growth, and relationships, and at one point it lists its very blatant intentions through some dialogue from Donna’s roommate. It also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and (BONUS) it even fails the Reverse Bechdel Test. Is it a brand of feminism that I wholly subscribe to? No, not really. The film really does focus on one particular type of woman. A young, straight, white, Jewish urbanite, with an affluent upbringing in a relatively liberal atmosphere. It’s definitely a romantic comedy, but some might complain that the plot feels too rosy. But overall the movie is worth an hour and a half of laughs and realness, and it will absolutely make the rest of your evening.