Donna, played by the excellent Jenny Slate, is a stand-up comedian whose material largely focuses on bodily functions.
Donna inhabits a “hipsterish” Brooklyn of artfully scruffy bars. But this is a believable New York. Twenty-somethings live in tiny apartments and work in shops to pay the rent. Longstanding radical bookshops are evicted by their landlords.
It is also a world in which women are allowed to make decisions about their own lives unquestioned and men are allowed to grow up.
Obvious Child is a refreshing women-led comedy along the lines of 2011’s Bridesmaids or TV’s Girls. It is remarkable for its treatment of abortion. Donna is dumped by her boyfriend, drowns her heartbreak in alcohol, and ends up in bed with a nice, but unlikely, stranger.
When she realises that she is pregnant, Donna decides to have an abortion knowing that she is neither willing nor ready to be a parent. Her decision is portrayed as sensible, not fraught or devastating. The staff at the clinic are helpful and friendly.
Though Donna has lots of doubts about her life, her decision to abort is not one of them. Obvious Child portrays abortion as it actually is. It’s a common decision that many women—one in three in the Britain—will make at some point in their life.
It isn’t earth-shattering, but allows them to carry on with their lives how they choose. This is miraculous when we consider how distorted the portrayal of abortion usually is.
A recent study found that a stunning 15.6 percent of characters in US film and TV who have abortions die. The majority die as a direct result of the procedure—the true figure is statistically zero. Most of the rest die through murder or suicide later.
These unfortunate fictional women are shown to be dangerously dealing with death if they go through with an abortion. And 9 percent of characters considering abortion avoid this “peril” by having the baby and giving it up for adoption. In reality, just 1 percent of women make this choice.
Obvious Child plays with standard rom-com tropes—the nice guy, the random meetings, the intense best friend. But it also has a genuinely funny, rather than “cute” and “quirky” leading woman.
The film’s characters make decisions, instead of falling into whatever fate throws their way. It also shows us that friends, family and even strangers can defy our worst expectations if we can only reach out to them.
This New York is relentless, but far from heartless.