Some have labeled Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child as an “abortion comedy.” This is a bit of lazy journalism and something of a misnomer as the film is not as flippant as this description would suggest. No, it proves refreshing in the way it takes a pragmatic look at this thorny situation from the point of view of a woman who, despite foolishly getting herself into a situation she can’t handle, comes to take stock of herself and her future.
Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a stand-up comic who, despite working diligently at her craft, is getting nowhere. Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse for her when she loses her boyfriend and part-time job over the course of one very bad day. Depressed and drunk one night, Donna falls into bed with Max (Jake Lacy), a nice guy who catches her act and gives her some much-needed attention. Six weeks later, she gets an unwelcome surprise when she finds out that she’s pregnant.
As Donna wrestles with how to deal with her predicament, Robespierre pulls out the various axes she has to grind. Her script deftly walks a tightrope where the issue of abortion is concerned, presenting it as an option but never endorsing it as the only avenue for her heroine to take. And while the film only runs a scant 83 minutes, much of it is devoted to Donna seriously considering each of her options. This is never more obvious than when she delivers an awkward set on stage that’s less a comedic routine and more a confessional of despair as she reveals to her audience all that she’s going through, expressing doubt as to if she has made the right decision, once she decides to terminate the pregnancy. It’s a raw, real, uncomfortable moment that demonstrates that Robespierre isn’t simply using abortion as a cheap punch line.
Slate is not the most likable actress – she’s a bit grating and obvious – but when Robespierre requires that she let her guard down to show Donna floundering emotionally, she’s able to deliver enough unaffected moments to win us over. Her roommate (Gaby Hoffman) is strong as the pragmatic friend, Lacy is quite good, able to display a degree of vulnerability while maintaining his dignity while Gabe Liedman as Donna’s gay best friend delivers the film’s biggest laughs whenever he tries to put himself in her shoes and fails spectacularly.
Perhaps the best thing about Child is its approach. There’s never a sense that Robespierre is insisting that what Donna does is right or wrong or that she’s passing any judgment on her or anyone who might decide to keep their child. If anything, the film takes a common sense approach that suggests that while one woman’s decision may not be another’s, no one should be ostracized or branded for what they chose to do.