Belfast Telegraph

Abortion rom-com Obvious Child is a laughing matter

Unplanned pregnancy is a touchy subject, but this film addresses the issue in a sensitive way

By Andrew Johnston

Obvious Child tackles anything but the expected subject matter. It is perhaps the world's first romantic comedy in which the lead characters bond over an abortion. But as well as being dangerously original, it's also witty and charming, with a central romance that is more beguiling than anything the likes of Kate Hudson or Matthew McConaughey have ladled out.

Jenny Slate (Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation) plays Donna Stern, a struggling New York stand-up.

By day, this wannabe Sarah Silverman works at a shop named Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books; by night, she exorcises her demons on stage, even blurting out to an audience that a recent one-night stand with genial bumpkin Max (an excellent Jake Lacy) has resulted in her becoming pregnant and that she is planning to get rid of the baby.

Jenny's hard-nosed mother (Polly Draper, from Thirtysomething) is a highly strung private tutor, while her father (Richard Kind, of Mad about You and Spin City) is a jovial Muppet-style puppet-maker.

The television veterans deliver strong performances, helping you forgive Robespierre's urgency to persuade us that Jenny is a mixture of her folks' personalities.

But despite the odd overcooked moment, Obvious Child is a wonderful watch. Robespierre's script is a gift to the well cast ensemble. Even minor players, such as David Cross, as the local comedy golden boy, and Gabe Liedman, as Jenny's gay best friend (it's hard to know if this is another dig at the ‘romcom' formula, or just basic inclusiveness), get their moments to shine.

Of course, irrespective of the quality of the end product, the subject matter is sure to have society's self-appointed moral guardians up in arms. Indeed, there have been calls in the US to ban the movie. But Jenny's course of action isn't treated glibly, nor used as a punchline. The circumstances surrounding her tryst with Max after a heavy drinking session at a comedy club may be farcical, but they will also be sorely familiar to many.

Meanwhile, the coldly functional way Jenny has to go about arranging her termination — which is set for Valentine's Day — is quite horrible. Obvious Child is no advertisement for abortion.

Based on Robespierre's earlier short film, at just 85 minutes, this feature version isn't much longer, and there clearly wasn't much of a budget. But the romantic elements connect, and there are some nicely bittersweet chuckles to be had. (Few will fail to smile at Jenny's proclamation that she has “peed in every pool (she's) ever been in”, or her mother's admonishment of her daughter for wasting her education by making jokes about “diarrhoea in her pants).

But more importantly, thanks to Robespierre's sensitive writing and direction and fine work from Slate and co, viewers should leave the cinema with a deeper understanding of a situation most of us will hopefully never have to deal with.

Placard-wavers would do well to watch Obvious Child before mounting any protests against it.

Four stars

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