Film review: Obvious Child 

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Stand-up comedians are known to mask vulnerabilities in self-deflecting insult humor or shock-value one-liners rather than embrace their flaws as part of their material.

In Obvious Child, heralded as an “abortion comedy,” director Gillian Robespierre relies on the kind of vulnerability unique to many 20-something women — unplanned pregnancy — but manages to depoliticize the “A” word with a humanistic, intimate perspective.

The film opens with Donna (Jenny Slate, TV’s Parks and Recreation) on stage at a Brooklyn comedy club in the middle of a joke about her underwear stains. Paralleling Slate’s own comedic style, Donna is a no-holds-barred kind of comedian. But she’s organically raunchy, as if the routine is a hysterical stream of consciousness — not quite improvisation yet not self-aware enough to rehearse.

After a chortle-inducing performance, Donna’s uptight hipster boyfriend breaks her post-show high and ends the relationship because he’s seeing another woman. Donna’s subsequent spiral downward sets the stage for a wealth of hilarity and brilliant dialogue, including a drunken on-stage meltdown; visits to her quirky, puppet-making father (Richard Kind, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn); and, most importantly, a hook-up that gives the film its reputation as an abortion flick.

A chance run-in with clean-cut business grad Max (Jake Lacy, TV’s The Office), who happens to be one of her mother’s students, affords Donna some necessary distraction in her post-breakup misery. Weeks after the fling, Donna discovers she’s pregnant. Completely unequipped for motherhood, an abortion is a no-brainer. She attempts to inform Max of the pregnancy and impending abortion (which she has to schedule on Valentine’s Day) on an impromptu dinner date, but she instead presents a timely fart joke.

Obvious Child succeeds in its inversion of the clichés typifying male-centric comedies — where a Seth Rogan or Adam Sandler movie would be self-deprecating and humorously bitter, Obvious Child’s characters can present their flaws (hilariously) without defeatism.

Furthermore, with its obvious geographical and thematic associations to the show, the film avoids the Girls rut of central character narcissism and self-destruction.

Obvious Child is an addition to the growing canon of insightful comedies by and about young women. Thematically and stylistically, it stands on the shoulders of low-key feminist antecedents like Lake Bell’s In a World... and Diablo Cody’s Juno. Much like the lead characters in the aforementioned films, Donna is perpetually likable and relatable in her mistakes and hang-ups, and she has clearly defined goals.

The head-on approach to abortion largely defines Obvious Child. Robespierre presents abortion as it is — that is to say, the film does not make more or less of the decision to abort — and therefore depoliticizes the procedure so it merges fluidly with the rest of the story line. The only qualm viewers might have with the depiction is with the spa-like setting of the clinic where Donna waits with other women after her abortion. It is a beautiful scene of solidarity, but it’s largely idealized.

Above all, Obvious Child presents the best case for cinematic and comedic honesty. After that, everything else (even abortion) falls perfectly into place.

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