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Metrograph Presents: It Happens To Us: Abortion In American Film (OBVIOUS CHILD)

(Obvious Child is a featured film in the Metrograph series It Happens to Us: Abortion in American Film which is playing through may 21 both at the Metrograph and online with 50% of all proceeds going to NARAL Pro-Choice America.)

Obvious Child, the first feature film from writer/director Gillian Robespierre (Landline), is a romantic comedy about a young woman getting an abortion. That’s right: girl and boy meet cute; girl and boy get drunk and screw; girl gets pregnant and doesn’t tell boy; boy wonders why girl avoids him; girl gets an abortion; life goes on. Normally, in such films (i.e., rom-coms, not films about abortion) the main obstacle to overcome is that the main characters don’t initially like each other (from the 1934 It Happened One Night to the 1989 When Harry Met Sally and beyond). Here, they actually get along just fine, despite their apparent differences. So what’s the problem?

The obstacles in the way of our protagonists’ eventual union lie entirely within the neuroses of twenty-something stand-up comedian Donna Stern, played with great zest and charm by actress and stand-up comedian Jenny Slate (The Sunlit Night). That and the fact that Donna actually goes through with the abortion (as opposed to what happens in other pregnancy comedies like Juno and Knocked Up) makes this a very fresh and delightful take on rom-coms and films about abortion. If you are against a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body, this is not for you. Tune into Fox News and see what horrors lie there, instead.

Through a combination of genuinely funny writing, performances both sharp and sweet, and fine cinematic camera moves and editing flourishes, the movie wins both our hearts and minds. True, Donna is, at first, annoyingly self-absorbed, but Slate shows us how the character’s insecurities are the cause of her cluelessness and allows her to mature before our eyes. The supporting cast—including Jake Lacy (Ode to Joy) as Max (the impregnator), and Gaby Hoffmann (C’mon C’mon) as Donna’s best friend Nellie—is also excellent, and has the additional virtue of here presenting as regular people rather than the usual glammed-up denizens of Hollywood romantic fantasies. All in all, the film’s a winner.

And let’s talk about that abortion. Robespierre never treats it like a joke (though everything else is fair game) but instead uses Donna’s predicament to muse on the options facing single women accidentally with child. In one lovely scene, Donna and her mother (a terrific Polly Draper, Shiva Baby) have a heart-to-heart in which they share stories of their respective unwanted pregnancies. How often do you see that in a movie, much less a comedic one? In its refusal to judge Donna even as she struggles to earn our respect, Obvious Child may just be the most radical film of 2014. Of course, it’s also a raunchy sex farce which never feels like it’s preaching to you. What more could you want?

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Metrograph; Gillian Robespierre; Obvious Child movie review
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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