Remember when I said I was going to be hosting a monthly feminist film and book club? Well that didn’t quite work out because the lack of artwork had me stumped. I wasn’t happy with the photograph I was using and I wanted something that could really bring it to life. I sometimes do drawings for Zusterschap, but I wanted something by somebody who could actually draw.
Enter Phie. She totally got what I was after and I couldn’t be happier!
We’re now back on track with amazing illustrations in tow, thanks for your patience!
A twenty-something comedienne’s unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront the realities of independent womanhood for the first time.
Back when I was an ignorant teen and just discovering feminism, I was 100% against abortion. Social stigma and extreme disapproval somehow ruled this little brain of mine and I was disgusted by the thought of women having abortions. I think I could have used a film like Obvious Child back then. In fact, this film should have been made sooner.
There has been an endless amount of films that explore unplanned pregnancies, but the subject has never been approached in such an honest way before. Most of the romantic comedies that tackle this subject go for crude laughs (Knocked Up) and very rarely explore it in a serious light. Obvious Child is the perfect mix of heartbreak and hilarity. It’s also a very strong example and lesson in how to break social stigma. Abortion is discussed in a safe but frank way throughout, when it is often seen as a huge and daunting decision in real life. It can be a big decision for some and the film doesn’t downplay that, it just shows us that it doesn’t have to a lonely and shameful one. Everything about the film feels very authentic; the casting is perfect and it just feels like you’re watching a group in real life, instead of a constructed reality. Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) is everything I want to be as a friend; extremely blunt but supportive.
Throughout, the subject matter is discussed in frankly in a safe space; the way it should be. After all, it’s just a medical procedure.
WHAT DID OTHERS THINK?
In the very first scene of Obvious Child, stand-up comedian Donna comes offstage and is unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend. He doesn’t get her. She is all hard edges and vagina jokes. All the elements of the formulaic romantic comedy are there; Donna loses her day job, she sinks into a massive funk after her breakup with Mr. Not-Right, and she sleeps with somebody else to get over him. Of course, here’s the twist: Donna discovers she’s pregnant and she decides to have an abortion. What makes this film different is that while Donna’s decision to terminate her unwanted pregnancy is at the core of the story, it serves more as a plot device to explore the issue and the characters than as a gimmick to give the film an “edge”.
Donna is a strong woman who is fallible and has the same doubts about herself that we all have. It helps that she has a great support group of friends, including the awesome Nellie, who has some of my favourite lines in the film. At no point does Donna doubt her decision to have her abortion, instead she worries that the man she slept with deserves to know. She doesn’t expect him to talk her out of it and there are no grand delusions that she will keep it or that they will live happily ever after. She just struggles with the moral dilemma whether it’s fair to keep the information from him.
“We already live in a patriarchal society where a bunch of weird old white men in robes get to legislate our cunts. You just need to worry about yourself.”
Donna’s best friend, Nellie (Gaby Hoffman), is a highlight throughout. She stands by her through everything that life throws their way and when she tells Donna about her own abortion, there are no feeble platitudes only an admission that she has never regretted it. One thing this film does very well is show Donna stand by her decision, which is something that is missing from mainstream cinema. In contrast, the director (Gillian Robespierre) brings Donna’s one-night-stand back into the picture in an arc that feels too ‘cutesy’ for the rest of the film. As Obvious Child remains firmly in the romantic comedy genre, some issues, such as how Donna manages to find the money for her abortion, are not addressed.
These things happen and the frank, but sensitive way they are handled is very effective; Obvious Child tackles an important issue for women without making light of it. Donna shows that she can be a woman about to have an abortion, whilst still functioning in her everyday life. The mention of abortion is still very much a taboo in mainstream American entertainment and it’s refreshing to see the subject tackled in a way that emphasises a woman’s right to choose without turning her into a 2-dimensional version of herself.
Disclaimer: I am not a fan of fart jokes – I still haven’t seen Bridesmaids because anything involving bodily functions just grosses me out. That said, the opening moments of Obvious Child are funny. Listening to Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) rattle on in her self-affirming/self-deprecating way about her period was like hearing my own internal monologue play out. It was wonderful to hear someone talk about menstruation in a very real, non-euphemistic way. It is this refusal to beat around the bush that makes Obvious Child wonderful.
The similarities between Donna Stern and myself are striking – both Jewish (though I’m only half), both born-and-bred New Yorkers, both with ex-boyfriends and ex-friends who cheated, both striving for careers in the arts world. This helped create a sympathy, one that may be hard to foster for those who don’t find any parallels between their lives and Donna’s. In any case, you should stick with it, because it’s charm and poignancy are worth it.
Obvious Child does well to strike a balance between the internal-Donna-world and the rest of the world, giving her parents glimmers of a life beyond. Then there’s Max – the anti-Donna, who is a lot like Donna anyway (also loving fart jokes). Their romance is slow and awkward, and their miscommunications aptly highlight the downfalls of dating in the 21st century. There’s Nellie – we all need a Nellie – who’s insistence that Donna doesn’t owe Max anything, doesn’t get in the way of Donna and Max’s romance. Its cast of characters, while all plot-servers or theme-highlighters in a way, add to the charm and reality of the story. There must be a mention of the lack of diversity of the cast, but not every film has to tell every story and this film tells its own well.
There’s something banal about it and yet this banality juxtaposes the subtle drama. Being dumped in a graffiti laden toilet; the clinking radiator, seeming to come to life, while Donna grapples with the news of her pregnancy; all these little moments create a fabric of a life that is believable, and real. It is these moments that make the film accessible to a wider range of viewer. It’s not a story about abortion – it’s a story about Donna, who happens to get an abortion.
Want to take part? Get in touch!