I Saw ‘Obvious Child.’ It Didn’t Help.
Yes, I saw it.
When “Obvious Child” hit theaters this month, conservatives were aghast the media glorified it – without irony – as an “abortion romantic comedy.” Liberals lashed back, claiming, like the movie’s Director Gillian Robespierre, that "[Conservatives bashing Obvious Child] haven't seen the movie; they're basing it on articles and trailers."
That defense is bogus. We are, after all, talking about the destruction of innocent human life – something nearly impossible to contextualize and utterly repulsive as a romantic comedy plot device.
Still, I decided to play along.
After watching “Obvious Child” last week, I’m only more determined to continue my “bashing.” The difference is I sat through a lot of crude sex jokes. From comparing an abortion to a “drive-through” or a DMV visit to concocting a plot where every main female character aborted a baby at some point, the film sets out to normalize abortion as a part of everyday life. “Obvious Child” is in the end little more than slick pro-abortion agitprop.
Taking place in Brooklyn, “Obvious Child” follows 28-year-old aspiring comedian Donna Stern (SNL’s Jenny Slate) as she cracks jokes about vaginas, “working dicks,” and masturbation on stage – while farting into the mic. Then Donna’s boyfriend cheats on her, she loses her apartment, and gets pregnant in a one-night-stand.
Thus begins Robespierre’s film about “self-discovery and empowerment” and the “realities of independent womanhood.” The Kickstarter-launched film initially gained momentum with distributor A24 after premiering at Sundance earlier this year.
According to Robespierre, her creation is a reaction against movies like “Juno” and “Knocked Up,” where the babies live: a “misrepresentation of women on screen when it came to unplanned pregnancy.” Rather, a “correct” representation, as told by “Obvious Child,” entails a casual abortion which jumpstarts a love story.
Abortion is normal – almost monotonous – in this film. After discovering she’s pregnant, Donna visits a Planned Parenthood clinic to request, “I would like an abortion, please.” She admits she sounds “insensitive,” like she’s ordering at a “drive-through,” but resolves “this is what I need to do.”
And she does cry – but only over the cost of her Valentine’s Day abortion: $500. “That’s like my whole rent,” she sobs.
While Donna’s roommate Nellie advises her to not to tell the father, Max (Jake Lacy), that she’s pregnant with his child (she doesn’t “owe him anything” in this “patriarchal society”), Donna does try multiple times – at a date, on the phone – but to no avail.
That is, until her comedy show the night before her abortion. Before hitting the stage, Nellie tells Donna, “You are going to kill it out there.” Donna jokes back, “I’m actually going to do that tomorrow.”
As she appears on stage, and notices Max in the audience, Donna decides now is the right time to announce, “I am going to have an abortion tomorrow.” She goes on to twist her decision into humor, laughing, “I can’t tell anyone to shut off the TV” and describing how back in the day during abortions, “They must have really had to hunt for it,” because there were “big bushes back then.”
And it’s not just Donna. The other main female characters have had abortions too: Nellie did, as did Donna’s mom. Both console Donna. Nellie reassures that “I never regret [my abortion]” and emphasizes that the procedure takes only five minutes. Donna’s outspoken gay friend, Joey (Gabe Liedman), also chimes in, “that’s amazing, you don’t even have to clear your sched[ule].”
When a troubled Donna crawls into bed with her mother one late night, she decides to tell her, “I’m pregnant, I’m having an abortion.” Her mom merely responds, “Thank God, I thought you going to say you were moving to LA.” The audience is then treated to the story of her own (then illegal) abortion.
On the day of, February 14, Nellie calls for a cab because, “we’re aborting in style” – and Max randomly appears with a bouquet in his arms to accompany them. Donna, wearing a shirt decorated with printed baby feet, checks with Max in the waiting room, “Are you OK with this?” He replies, “Yes, of course.” They chat about the weather and Max admits, ““this may be the best worst Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had.”
The abortion itself consists of a camera on Donna’s face and a slight buzzing noise. While Donna initially tears up under sedation, she soon finds herself in a room full of women that looks like a hair parlor. They look at each other shyly and begin smiling.
With the happiness continuing, Max and Donna later laugh that day about visiting the DMV (“I think they towed my car,” Donna says). The camera eventually zooms away, as Max and Donna snuggle together on the couch, holding hands, watching “Gone with the Wind.”
And they lived happily ever after.
The only issue still up for discussion seems to be the film’s genre. In a recent Huffington Post interview, Slate insisted that, “the movie's so much more than [an abortion comedy.]” She explained, “The movie is not a comedy about abortion, nor do we think that abortion is funny, but we think people are funny.”
Robespierre agreed, “We wanted to humanize choice, and we did it through humor.” She continued, “The shorthand that journalists say about it begin a ‘abortion comedy’ is unfortunate, but it means abortion is being discussed in many platforms from The New York Times to Huffington Post Live.”
But when HuffPost Live Host Ricky Camilleri brought up women’s reproductive rights, Robespierre changed her tune: “women's rights are under attack, and I think that there's a lot of stigma and shame attached with the word and we're just trying to tell one woman's story, and that's having a safe, regrets-free abortion. And that's Donna's story.” That’s Donna’s story.
But Donna’s story doesn’t work. Although adored by the “pro-choice” community and organizations like Planned Parenthood that lobbies we’re “not in her shoes” because abortion is “a deeply personal and often complex decision,” the movie surprisingly deemphasizes choice. With job loss, apartment loss, and a budding relationship, Donna’s “choice” appears limited – and never once does the camera hint at the process of her decision.
Yes, I empathized for Donna, felt her situation. But, at the same time, the movie forgets to voice women who choose life – AND women who choose abortion. The “comedy” makes a joke out of women who go through a difficult decision to abort and ignores regrets of women who do. They exist.
At one point, Donna’s Dad stresses that “creative energy sometimes comes from the lowest part of your life” and that “living is the best revenge.”
Very true. That is, if living is an option – for the not-so-obvious child.
— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.