Gillian Robespierre's Sundance 'abortion comedy' is courageous and admirable in its feminism
Billed as the Sundance ‘abortion comedy’, writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s debut feature has already attracted considerable attention for its controversial subject matter and scatological dialogue.
It centres on Donna (played by the effusive and sardonic Jenny Slate, of Saturday Night Live fame), a stand-up comedian whose life provides the dark and dirty fodder for her act. Having been dumped by her partner, she finds herself accidentally pregnant after a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy): a man who is a seemingly incongruous match for her. Donna’s struggle to cope with this consequence guides the entirety of the narrative and we're strongly allied to her as a result.
Obvious Child occupies the same sphere as Lena Dunham’s ubiquitous TV series Girls, alongside the films of the mumblecore movement. Themes of arrested development and failure fuelled by entitlement and apathy loom large here. Yet Robespierre's film intelligently mines the tropes of the subgenre, drawing on its clichés in order to subvert them.
In its obsession with the female body Obvious Child may have much in common with deliberately politically incorrect work (such as that of Judd Apatow) but it's far more courageous in its engagement with the reality of pregnancy and abortion. For this is about volition: that the film acknowledges the problem with restricting choice and assuming control of women's bodies is what marks it out as truly feminist, as well as providing a satisfying context for its humour.
Donna may be abrasive and confrontational on stage, but we also see her immense vulnerability and sadness. The film's focus extends beyond the burgeoning relationship between Donna and Max, investing her friendship with the straight-talking Nellie (an outstanding Gaby Hoffmann) with equivalent importance. There are many reasons to love this film, not least because it's gutsy and genuinely funny, but perhaps Obvious Child's most admirable quality is that its feminism is very real.
Selected release from Fri 29 Aug.