Gillian Robespierre’s 2014 romantic comedy “Obvious Child” seamlessly portrays the difficult realities of young adult life, complete with heartbreak, job instability and unplanned pregnancy. “Obvious Child,” with its frank discussion of abortion and reproductive rights, earns a solid place alongside other romantic comedies like Michael Showalter’s 2017 film “The Big Sick,” handling serious issues with heart, thought and care, while remaining funny and alive all the while.
The film concerns a young fledgling stand-up comedian named Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), who, after being cheated on, broken up with and informed that the bookstore she works at is mere weeks away from closing, is left to pick up the pieces of her slowly crumbling life. In the midst of a downward spiral filled with booze and light stalking of her ex, Donna meets a man named Max (Jake Lacy), who is kind, considerate and enjoys Donna’s immature sense of humor. After a one-night stand results in an unplanned pregnancy, the film’s direction is set.
Sprinkled with heart-wrenching moments, “Obvious Child” is lent a relatability that balances hardship with humor through Slate’s performance as Donna, whose unwavering decision to get an abortion provides much of the film’s emotional core. After her doctor confirms her pregnancy, Donna asks to receive an abortion without hesitation. Even when informed of the availability of other options, Donna’s mind remains unchanged.
It is during this scene — as Donna sits in the sterile hospital room, surrounded by infographics, consumed by artificial light and crying over the cost of the procedure she undoubtedly knows she needs — that many viewers have the opportunity to see themselves in Donna.
The romantic comedy genre tends to feel saturated with the notion of “happily ever after” and doing all it takes to “make it work,” even as it relates to unwanted pregnancy. More often than not, unintentional or unwanted pregnancies are at first met with shock but ultimately result in carrying the pregnancy to term. The question of “What do you want to do?” is almost never raised and if it is, the immediate answer is to reorient one’s life to accommodate a baby.
It is for this reason that Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” is so vital to the genre and to movie watchers alike, as it sets itself apart from the traditional romantic comedy arc.
As the country continues to reel from the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, it is essential that we recognize the importance of choice. “Obvious Child” is a crucial addition to the canon of romantic comedies because it actively works to destigmatize abortion and highlight the support and community available to those who recieve them.
This is particularly evident in the recovery room scene, as Donna sits side by side with people dressed in pink hospital gowns, all having made the same choice under varying circumstances. Rather than experiencing melancholy or regret, Donna sips her water and shares a brief and telling smile with a woman across the room, as if to signal a sense of solidarity and hope.
While much of the point of romantic comedies is to make the viewer feel good through escapism and unrealistic circumstances, there is a desperate need for films within the genre to bring us that same feeling by showing us that we are not alone in our experiences and that we are each deserving of a happy ending. Lucky for us, “Obvious Child” does just that.
Sierra Martinez is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org