This month a new abortion comedy titled Obvious Child opens in theaters. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it, abortion comedy? Okay, how about a comedy with a story about abortion? That may be even more accurate, because for this film, written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, the comedy and the abortion story are quite separate.
Obvious Child is about Donna, played by former Saturday Night Live actress Jenny Slate—a stand-up comic in the film as well as in real life. Donna has just been dumped by her boyfriend who confesses to having cheated on her. As a result, she becomes depressed, gets drunk, delivers an uncharacteristically awful standup routine complete with Holocaust jokes, and has a one-night stand with a handsome stranger.
Somehow this turn of events cures her depression, and we fast-forward to “a few weeks later” when Donna learns she’s pregnant. Here we are, relatively early in the film, as the protagonist encounters what would appear to be a conflict. But the screenwriter quickly bypasses the challenging moment by having her make a snap decision: Obviously, I’ll have an abortion.
What follows is not an unfolding plot but a slow walk-through of Donna’s chosen course of action. She gets counsel from her abortion-veteran roommate, she visits Planned Parenthood where she schedules an abortion, and then waits a few weeks for the appointment date to arrive.
I don’t mind spoiling it for you, because Obvious Child isn’t a film worth seeing. Not just because it concerns the unfunny topic of abortion, but because it has no real story to tell. There’s no challenge the protagonist has to overcome, no climax, and therefore no character growth. In fact, over the course of the film, none of the characters changes in any significant way (that is, unless you count the unborn child who goes from being alive to being dead).
The story ends with a whimper, and almost intentionally so. It’s as if it we’re meant to be surprised at how smoothly Donna’s abortion goes. See, it wasn’t that bad! You can do it, too! It feels less like a movie then a promotional video of what you can expect from Planned Parenthood when you don’t want to be expecting. Considering the NOW logos (for the pro-abortion lobby group National Organization for Women) visible on pre-screening materials at the showing I attended, it very likely was meant to be just that—not art, but propaganda.
Every couple of years we get a pro-life film that feels like an advocacy project. If Obvious Child proves anything it’s that pro-abortion advocacy groups can make bad films too.
For starters, Obvious Child—just like the aspirations of the pro-abortion lobby—relies on wishful thinking. A woman experiencing an unexpected pregnancy might wish to end it without any cost to herself or others, but that’s simply not possible in reality. With the protagonist facing no challenges, the film has the distinct feeling of a utopian fantasy—so sugary sweet, the fakeness factor is palpable.
It’s possible this is what the screenwriter was going for—to sell a story she wants people to believe could be true. In our increasingly technological world, where scientific advancement makes it nearly impossible to argue that a fetus is not a human life, the pro-abortion argument has less and less ground to stand on, therefore requiring more and more willingness to suspend disbelief.
Second, while the screenwriter may be unaware of this, she, like many pro-abortion advocates,patronizes women. Take the film’s title, Obvious Child, which refers to Donna not her unborn child. Obviously she’s still a child, therefore she can’t be expected to bear one of her own.
Donna may be a goofy stand-up comic who gets by on corny jokes and body humor, but that doesn’t mean she’s not capable of being a grown-up. The whole thing about becoming a grown-up is that it’s a process one gradually experiences while dealing with the challenges life presents. It’s not just something that happens to you; it requires your growing . . . up. But when even her mother agrees without question that her grandchild should be aborted, the chances of Donna being challenged are nil.
Third, Obvious Child—like abortion providers—doesn’t acknowledge the real nature of sex.Rather than teaching that intercourse leads to babies, Planned Parenthood’s philosophy—which the film embraces—teaches that it leads to personal pleasure, so long as contraception is used to avoid babies and STDs. It overlooks the reality that having had a sexual relationship can both heighten heartbreak when one is dumped (as Donna experiences) and increase the chances of settling for a one-night-stand in the future. And it presents abortion as the obvious“solution” when contraception fails. In Obvious Child, getting dumped by a cheating boyfriend causes depression; killing one’s child brings no emotional consequences.
Finally, Obvious Child belittles men. Even though a male friend mentions to her that “if I got someone pregnant, I would want to know,” Donna not only decides on abortion before talking to the father of her child, she doesn’t once bring up the subject when she is alone with him, even as they grow closer during the course of the film. In the end all they have are a few moments together in the waiting room before Donna is summoned for the abortion, when he tells her “Yeah, of course I’m OK with it!”
The screenwriter apparently means for us to be surprised that the father is not mad at Donna, that he actually supports her abortion decision, and even continues to be romantic towards her. What a man!? But in reality, it’s hardly surprising that a man wouldn’t want to assume responsibility for a child conceived in a one-night-stand—that he’d prefer the benefits of sex without the costs. That’s the prevailing standard that Planned Parenthood, and this film, perpetuate.
It also doesn’t help the film that the characters make non-stop references to “human life,” as when Donna describes her ex-boyfriend as “a human male who is still alive” (before adding, “I feel like when someone does something bad they should just die”). Or when she’s about to do her last stand-up act in the film and her friend says “You’re going to kill it out there!” To which Donna replies, “Actually I have an appointment tomorrow,” referring to her abortion. If the idea is to deny the humanity of her unborn child, why the references to its humanity in the script?
And that’s the biggest problem with Obvious Child. As soon as it gets on its abortion-advocacy track, not only does the possibility of plot and character development disappear, so does the only redeeming quality the film had going for it at the beginning—comedy. The flat-lining of humor couldn’t be more obvious than in Donna’s final stand-up routine—what the director probably intended to be the film’s climax. For a comedy act, Donna’s performance contains hardly a single joke. Instead, she confessionally tells the crowd of her plans to have an abortion the next day, Valentine’s Day, while they awkwardly shift in their chairs. She reveals that what makes her feel better about her abortion decision is knowing that “very many women have done it before . . . I’m not alone.“ And “afterwards,“ she declares in a straining-to-sound-hopeful voice, “I’m going to be in my future!” The audience claps in support. She undergoes the abortion the next day, and the film ends.
That’s how you kill a comedy. For a film billed as one, Obvious Child ends on a most unfunny note. Is that the fault of Jenny Slate’s performance? Or of Gillian Robespierre’s writing and directing? Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s not possible to make comedy out of a dismal topic like abortion. Perhaps pitting the mother’s life and the baby’s life—the mother’s future and the baby’s future—against each other is inherently forced . . . and ultimately untrue.
The story of the stalled development of a woman, and the death of an innocent girl or boy, really has no good punchline.
Mary Rose Somarriba is Executive Editor and Culture Editor of Verily