24 June 2014
As a woman obsessed with social justice (especially the particular form of social justice that populates opinion pieces on sites like Jezebel and HuffPost), I spend a lot of time thinking about privilege and it’s dark implications. This is not what I thought about during Obvious Child.
I thought, instead, about how often men get to hear about gross shit going on with their bodies. I thought how often their particular emotional journeys are told in a raw and engrossing way. I thought about Louis C.K. and his particular brand of no-holds-bar honesty on stage. I thought about Apatow comedies, and American Pie, and movies like the Kings of Summer and Stand By Me. I thought about how much the male experience dominates story telling, to the point that people often (in my opinion, wrongfully) punish the particular movie (cough, Knocked Up, cough) rather than the societal trend.
Obvious Child is not a revolutionary film in any way. Neither was Bridesmaids, or For A Good Time Call, or Girls*. But it is refreshing, in an occasionally physical way, to get to see women represented on screen, by women, in that same raw and uncensored way that men get to see themselves CONSTANTLY.
Jenny Slate stars as Donna Stern, a stand up comedian who goes through a bad break up, has a one night stand, gets knocked up, and decides to get an abortion. Along the way, she makes jokes about underwear and farting, gets in long discussions with her best friends, comes to grips with her adult relationship with her mother, and falls for the one night stand who knocked her up. It’s a romantic comedy, through and through, made special primarily due to the viewpoint that it represents. Well, that and the abortion.
I don’t want to overstate it, because I think Obvious Child is exactly the sort of movie that gets ruined by people screaming all over the place “IT’S THE ANTIDOTE TO JUDD APATOW/KNOCKED UP/MISOGYNY!!!” First of all, I don’t need an antidote to Judd Apatow (and given that Judd Apatow has helped foster tons of female comediennes, it’s almost as if a “deadly disease” also created, nurtured, and unleashed its own cure). Second of all, Knocked Up told its own story, separate from this one, and told it well. Third of all, well, misogyny is still super alive and well, and also has nothing to do with this movie.
That being said, the movie was refreshing, both for its frank look at women in their 20s and for its frank treatment of abortion as both a real life event AND a legitimate choice for a woman unready to go the child-bearing route. Jenny Slate delivers a surprising performance, as much for her easy emoting in the emotional scenes as for her flawless comedic turns. Gillian Robespierre turns in a lovely, simple script that eschews big moments for well timed sarcasm and goofiness. It’s the type of movie that feels LIVED, not just created, as evidenced by the easy chemistry between Slate and best friend Gaby Hoffman, or Slate and love-interest Jake Lacy (aka Plop, from The Office).
I read a condescending article about the recent surge of “women child” comedies, and how they are ultimately “hurting the cause” recently. I respectfully disagree. I wish we lived in a world where a broad spectrum of women’s stories were told, so that we didn’t feel the need to archetype every character that becomes popular (this one’s a MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL! That one’s a WOMAN CHILD! That one’s a STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER!). And film is itself cyclical, prone to becoming obsessed with one theme or character trait before moving onto the next. While it is always helpful to point out inauthentic or hurtful character tropes (and in fact, some of the above are useful when talking on a macro-level about the state of cinema), it’s also sometimes exciting to point out that we are moving into a world with broader representation of women.
And sometimes it’s just nice to laugh and be mildly heartwarmed by a comedy that feels unique and cool.