Obvious Child, directed and co-written by Gillian Robespierre and starring Jenny Slate (of SNL and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On fame), has been touted as a romantic comedy about abortion. But as with most “toutings” this depiction crumbles if you push on it very hard. Because Obvious Child is a film about a woman in her late 20s, Donna Stern, and focuses on a period in her messy, human life. Donna’s unintended pregnancy and decision to abort constitute one aspect of her story but calling Obvious Child a “romantic comedy about abortion” detracts from the film’s charms.
Let’s break it down. Obvious Child is entirely aware of its genre, hitting several of the requirements for contemporary romantic comedies. Donna, the protagonist, works in an independent bookstore by day and performs stand-up comedy by night. She is messy and quirky and not afraid to discuss bodily functions (her own and others’) either on stage or in general. She has an equally quirky father and, in contrast, a completely with it, type-A mother. She also has two best friends to use as sounding boards: an outspoken roommate, Nellie, and a supportive “gay BFF,” Joey (delightfully played by Gaby Hoffman and Gabe Liedman, respectively). In hitting these notes, Obvious Child grounds the audience in familiar terrain in order to expand the boundaries of the romantic comedy genre.
Even as it honors romantic comedy tropes, Obvious Child also subverts them. For one, Donna actually seems like a real woman rather than a “real woman” played with messy hair or funky clothes by Cameron Diaz or Drew Barrymore. As Monika Bartyzel states in her discussion of Obvious Child and the limits of embodied women on film: “The film is set in the bone-chilling cold of a New York City winter, and its heroine wears layers of knits, doesn’t obsess about makeup, and has many important conversations in a graffiti-ridden co-ed bar bathroom.”