Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Movie: The Obvious Child (****/****)

Stop. Think of five stories that you know, in American film, television, comics, novels, or other forms of media, that depict a woman wrestling with the decision of whether or not to have an abortion.

Now try to think of any, among those five, in which the woman went through with it.

NOW try to think of any, if there are any remaining, in which that act is depicted as a good thing. As something that is probably the right decision, given the woman's economic, mental, and emotional state.

I couldn't, until I watched the short film "Obvious Child."

(PS My five were Miranda on Sex and the City, Dolores of the Wally Lamb novel She's Come Undone, the titular character in the movie Juno, Mary from the movie Saved!, and Alison from the movie Knocked Up. In only one, She's Come Undone, did the woman go through with the procedure, after being pressured into it by her asshole boyfriend, and she deeply regretted it later.)

Obvious Child was written and directed by Gillian Robespierre. It's a romantic comedy, and that right there came as a jolt. There is a cultural expectation engrained inside me that says abortion must be a weighty topic: men kill each other over it, supreme court candidates are made and broken on the litmus of their support, and fathers blow their daughters' brains out when the girl wants to abort their own incest baby. Yet it's not in Obvious Child. It's a fact of life, depicted in 20 minutes and 51 seconds of charm and humor.

As a society, America is pro-choice by law, but not by culture. The narratives that we tell firmly support a pro-life agenda; the stories we tell might be pro-choice, but there's only one obvious right choice. Hell, there's even a TV tropes section devoted to the subject. It's called "Good Girls Avoid Abortion." Gag. We may not be forcing pregnant women into back alleys to stick a wire hanger between their legs, but we are still shaming the hell out of them.

There's no shame in Obvious Child. Donna (Jenny Slate), a 20-something New Yorker, discovers that her boyfriend has been cheating on her; during the therapuetic binge that follows, she hooks up with a scruffy but sweet guy named Peter (Chris McHenry). A split condom and 5 and a half weeks later, Donna finds herself pregnant and in need of "a date with a vacuum." She and Peter happen to meet on her way to the clinic, and what results is both the most awkward and most awesome meet-cutes that I've ever seen. At no point is Donna's decision to have an abortion called into question; I actually just started to type a sentence that justified her decision, but really, it requires no justification. It's her choice.

It might seem weird to qualify a short-film romantic comedy as "Important." But until we are pro-choice by culture, until we tell stories that embrace abortion as a right option, our laws will forever be tenuous and constantly threatened.


  1. I haven't seen that film, but it sounds interesting. But I wanted to mention that I can come up with one other case where an abortion is portrayed as the right decision: in the UK show Skins, a character gets pregnant, considers all her options, and then has an abortion. When her best friend asks what she's going to do and she reveals that she's already done it, the only thing her friend has to say in response is "I would have gone with you if you'd told me", and that's the last time the pregnancy or the abortion is discussed.

    Of course, that's the UK, where pro-choice ads can get aired on TV, while in the US we can have Superbowl ads about choosing life, but I'm darned if I can remember ever seeing one that presents the other side.

  2. The movie's actually on Vimeo, available to view online if you want to check it out. It's quite funny -- the montage of their drunken shenanigans is worth it if nothing else.

    I've never watched Skins -- but they're making a US version, right? It'll be interesting to see how/if that storyline will be handled.

  3. You should specify what country you're talking about - different countries have different views. For instance, in the UK soap Eastenders, Danielle and Lucy have had abortions (both being teenagers) where it was discussed with another character and it was decided that this was the best particular option for them personally.

  4. I did say, As a society, America is pro-choice by law, but not by culture. But I'll clarify that further.

    I get the impression that as a country, America's far more religious and fundamentalist about our religion than most developed nations. Admittedly most of my info about religion in the UK comes from Eddie Izzard, but is it really not that big a deal over there?