I don’t believe I’ve ever watched a film that spoke so frankly about womanhood. Obvious Child is crass, it’s sweet, it’s funny and intelligent, and most importantly it’s relatable to young women.
Jenny Slate (known for the oddball characters she plays all over television) plays Donna Stern in director/writer Gillian Robespierre’s film, Obvious Child. Donna has hit a bit of a rough patch. Her boyfriend has just dumped her after she starts using him as fodder in her standup act, and she’s about to lose her job. To make things worse, she becomes pregnant from a one night stand. Immediately deciding to get an abortion – and on Valentine’s Day, no less – the film is about the ins and outs of her character, breaking the abortion taboo in film and talking about it in a modern and direct manner, and the relationships you have and build in your twenties.
As someone in her early twenties, I’m already feeling the weight of what it means to be on your own while still unable to have everything figured out. I’m technically equipped to live on my own, I kind of have a grasp on how to pay bills on time, I can make a meal or two if it involves a microwave, and I know what it means to keep up relationships when all you want to do while unemployed is lay in bed and watch Friday Night Lights on Netflix. As a female in her early twenties, I don’t often see films where I see me on screen. I don’t relate to glamorous, leggy blondes or the perfectly quirky brunettes. I love seeing kickass female heroes in films like The Avengers and The Hunger Games but more on an escapist level.
I’m still developing a dress sense and learning what’s appropriate for job interviews and what isn’t; I’m still living in a crummy apartment that I pay far too much for; and I still rely completely on help from my family. Obvious Child is the first time I’ve seen me and for most female viewers, I’m sure they saw the same. Jenny Slate is cute, but she isn’t Hollywood gorgeous as we’ve come to expect. She doesn’t try to keep up appearances; she’s a bit of a screw-up but in an understandable away, nothing exaggerated, and it’s almost like taking a sigh of relief when watching the film unfold. Her life is kind of messy, she isn’t the best at her job, and her newest love interest comes from a disastrous one night stand. None of this breaks her; she doesn’t have her revelation moment or her moment of succumbing to emotional pressure. She mopes, she is comforted by her mom and she cracks jokes to keep from feeling down.
In film we get to see every facet of what being a man means. We get to see him fall in love, break someone’s heart, go to war, become a doctor, a bartender, a professor, a lawyer, a musician, a coach etc. Male characters get to fail, spectacularly, and they get to be triumphant. Audiences get to see men go from being underdogs to success stories and the journey in between. Actors get to play damaged, vulnerable, cocky, sensitive, outspoken, sexy, and goofball. They can be the villain or the hero and loved all the same, but most importantly, they get to play real people.
From my experience, more often than not, women get to play characters – mere representations of who women are. They get to play tropes and archetypes and when a real, meaty role comes along, it’s one of the few, while men get them constantly.
Which is what makes Obvious Child not only refreshing, but also one of the best films of the year.
Abortion is discussed in the film but it’s never demonized, and she’s never demonized for choosing to go through with it. Even better, she never even considers any other options. As the title of the film suggests, she’s still practically a child herself and couldn’t even begin to think about the notion of motherhood. So, she goes through with the abortion and is supported by her best friend and the guy who she slept with, Max, played by Jake Lacy.
Donna’s best friend is a staunch feminist, and their relationship is just as integral to the film’s narrative as Donna’s relationship with Max. Gaby Hoffmann is great as Nellie, and the two seem like real friends – no bullshit involved but a lot of affection for the person who is always there in life to have your back.
Max is an impossibly good person. He also doesn’t play into any typical gender roles and instead is simply supportive of Donna, is kind of weird sometimes, but is so well-intentioned that it’s easy to ignore the oddball aspects.
Obvious Child is a romantic comedy unlike any other because the primary focus of the film is Donna and how Donna grows on her own, and not on her reliance on a significant other. Slate is amazing in the role, and if the movie business wasn’t such a fickle one, she’d be named an actress deserving of awards love. Both the film and its lead performer are top tier and deserve attention, not just for the story they told, but how they told it.
Obvious Child is one of my favorite films of the year, and seeing a character like Donna is a relief because it lets us know that while they’re hard to come by, there are filmmakers out there who are striving to get stories about women told and doing so spectacularly.