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Reality Bites

Rom-com Obvious Child is the sweet antithesis to Knocked Up and Juno

We’re starting to live in a Jenny Slate world, and I’m perfectly OK with that. She’s brilliantly annoying on Kroll Show, as one of the Lizzes of PubLIZity; she’s the creator, with her husband Dean Fleischer-Camp, of the video and bestselling book Marcel the Shell With Shoes On; she’s been guest-starring on more TV shows than I can remember. She makes fart jokes in interviews and tweets videos of her dog. And Slate stars in Obvious Child, the rare film that can genuinely be called a feminist romantic comedy.

Obvious Child is also, as you may have heard, an abortion comedy. But that’s not exactly true: Obvious Child is not About Abortion, in the afterschool-special, other-movies-I-shall-not-name way. It’s about Donna Stern (Slate), a twentysomething comedian by night and bookstore employee by day. Her life goes to shit all at once, as often happens: Her boyfriend dumps her; her job evaporates; her one-night stand with a nice but bland fellow named Max (Jake Lacy) maybe didn’t involve protection. “I remember seeing a condom,” she says to her best friend Nellie (a pitch-perfect Gaby Hoffman). “I just don’t remember what it did.” 

The beauty of Obvious Child is that none of this is the end of the world. It just sucks, and it sucks a lot, even for a young woman with loving, supportive parents and really excellent friends. Donna gets drunk, cries, does both at the same time, does terrible standup, does great standup, and wrestles with her feelings for Max. 

What she never wrestles with is her decision to have an abortion. She doesn’t take the decision lightly, and she has a billion questions, but she knows she’s too much of a child to have one of her own. Bawdy and genuine, Donna is a character so messily, perfectly balanced between vulnerability and humor that we’re always laughing with her, not at her; there’s no cruelty in writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s deft, affecting, intelligent and honest brand of comedy. Obvious Child is a quiet movie, in a way; no one needs saving, and everyone’s going to be ok. But it feels like a big film all the same.