Boy meets girl. Boy and girl are cute together. Girl gets pregnant. Boy and girl must learn to pull together and accept new maturity so that they can properly handle their new responsibility. That’s how it goes, right? That’s what you think when you hear that a film features a woman who gets pregnant. But that’s not where Obvious Child goes. This is a different stripe of rom-com, and it’s probably the best one of the year for it.
Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a dirt-poor Brooklyn comedian who loses her job and gets dumped at the same time. She finds drunken solace in the arms of handsome stranger Max (Jake Lacy). But a few weeks after their tryst, Donna learns that she’s pregnant. She promptly schedules an abortion, but things get complicated when Max shows up again. Not that getting to know Max in any way changes her plan, but she finds that he’s a pretty great guy, but he’s also extremely together, whereas she is decidedly not.
Slate, best known up til now for recurring roles in various TV comedies, has immediately staked a claim as a terrific lead. Donna is a screwup in a way that male protagonists traditionally are, but flipping genders often results in awkward results, since the distaff versions are envisioned from the outside in. But Donna is fully realized – she’s weird and gross and off-kilter in a way that feels unique to Slate. More importantly, she’s endearing despite these faults, but never in a forced, “quirky” way. She’s the kind of slacker that you can root for, and some beautifully vulnerable scenes make her deeply sympathetic.
It helps that the rest of the cast bounces off Slate wonderfully. Max almost an ideal for Donna to aspire to more than a human being, so wonderful is he (at dinner, he hand-warms a packet of butter for her), but Stern and Lacy’s chemistry is so charming that it doesn’t matter. But the real supporting MVP is Gaby Hoffmann as Donna’s best friend Nellie. Hoffmann is suddenly all over indie film, and I couldn’t be happier for it, because she’s always great. Richard Kind and Polly Draper are also welcome as Donna’s parents, who are constantly supportive but also warmly urging her towards better life choices. David Cross also shows up as a romantic mirror flip of Max, the kind of guy you feel Donna has historically been drawn to, and who represents a continued trend of bad, short-sighted decisions.
Obvious Child has been described as an “abortion comedy,” but that aspect of the plot is not really the focus. But it is crucial to the film. Convention holds that the pregnant lady has to have the baby for the sake of an arc or an easy beginning-middle-end story structure. But this movie denies that, instead delivering (no pun intended) a vital reminder of why abortion is a necessary option. It’s strongly pro-choice without a hint of preachiness. Think of it this way: a movie like Knocked Up has the characters having a baby in spite of all the indicators that they are so very not ready for it. The journey to having the child teaches them to grow up. But here, the decision to not have the child is what’s important. Recognizing that she isn’t ready for that kind of maturity is Donna’s first step towards actually attaining maturity. This is a good message. This is something people need to hear. And it helps that it comes from a film as big-hearted and funny as this one.
Obvious Child enters limited release on June 6th.