Review: Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014)

Published on ABC Online for The Final Cut

In Obvious Child, writer director Gillian Robespierre has made a film about abortion that handles the divisive topic with a warm, light touch. Twenty-something stand up comic Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) has recently broken up with her boyfriend, when she has a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy), and falls pregnant. Donna decides to have an abortion, a decision supported by her friends and family, who furnish her with good advice as well as their own abortion stories. The film takes place over two weeks while she waits for the appointment and follows the traditional romantic comedy arc of two opposites falling in love.

Obvious Child’s light-hearted approach to this hot button topic is a welcome addition to a conversation that is frequently coloured by sexism and fear. Through its two central characters, it offers a positive picture of how an unplanned pregnancy might be negotiated with a minimum of drama. Max is a wonderful exemplar of how to handle the abortion of someone you like. After getting over his initial shock – he learns of the imminent procedure via one of Donna’s stand-up routines – he is kind and supportive, bringing her flowers and hiring DVDs to watch afterward. Donna never questions her decision; she knows it’s the right one for her, which is an unusually honest portrayal of how it feels to be in that situation.

Radically, the film’s key sequence follows Donna through each step of the abortion. The camera stays in the room with her while the procedure is performed, watching her slightly drugged face as the sound of the vacuum aspiration machine hums on the soundtrack. In the following shot, she sits in a room of girls, all wearing matching hospital robes as the anesthetic wears off. It is a lovely moment of female solidarity.

Obvious Child unashamedly depicts abortion as a practical part of life rather than a distasteful aberration and in doing so, contributes toward building a society that no longer sees anything threatening in a woman’s right to choose.