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After seeing it, my first thought was, “And?”
I mean, as I was reading about it before it opened and then reading reviews, and even while watching the movie itself, I got the feeling that everybody involved and everyone who was praising this movie was doing so mainly because of its subject matter, and that they all thought the film was doing something edgy and controversial and daring.
Okay, maybe it is. But, I’m sorry, I simply didn’t see it.
Of course, that could just be me. After all, I was there for Maude’s dilemma, parts one and two, back in the 1970’s, and various other television shows like All in the Family, and I was there for Cabaret and Alfie and The Young Lovers, and later for Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Racing With the Moon and Story of Women and The Cider House Rules, and more recently for Vera Drake and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.
So I’ve kind of been around the block a few times on the subject matter and it’s probably going to take much more than just having it be the through line of a movie to get my engine into higher gear (notice how I really milked that metaphor).
Yet when it comes to Obvious Child, I’m not sure that the movie really brought anything new, much less daring, to the topic, except perhaps the idea that getting an abortion can be teddy bear cute and the basis for a rom com.
Fine. I’ll give you that last bit. It definitely does do that. At the same time, I’m not really all that sure that that’s that much of a leap forward.
But, you know, whatever.
Obvious Child, in the end, is really more about someone who wants to get an abortion and is worried and concerned about telling anyone for fear of what they will say, but constantly discovers that no one really cares that much, including the one drunken night stand father of the fetus (in what is probably the least believable part of the movie).
It’s like one of those coming out stories where no one wants to tell anyone they’re gay, terrified of everyone’s reactions, but when they confess all, no one cares—which, I guess, falls under what one calls progress, but, at the same time, isn’t particularly dramatic on the screen anymore and ends up making you wonder what the point was in the first place.
Outside of all that, how you feel about the movie will probably depend on how you feel about the central character, an aspiring standup comedian Donna Stern. Personally, I found her personality to be a bit on the grating side and her routines to be incredibly…routine (at one point, her BFF and fellow comic says something to the effect that the reason the audience loves her is that she is so herself on stage…when he share that, all I could think was: “he said that as if that’s a good thing”).
Of course, yes, that might just be me again, but she’s also the kind of character who claims to be serious at doing standup but only does it once a week at the same bar.
She’s the kind of character who never seems to make much money, but never has any issues paying rent or buying food (or copious amounts of drink).
She’s the kind of character who has sex with her bra on (ah, America, land of the L-shaped sheets and people making the beasts with two backs while wearing underwear).
She’s the kind of character who has a gay best friend as an accessory like a Prada bag (hey, those Prada bags are expensive, and anyway, the 1990’s called, they want their f*g h*g back).
And I won’t even mention her (and the other characters) strange fascination with various bodily functions.
In other words, she’s pretty much a walking, talking cliché.
And to add insult to injury she’s just so…god damn perky.
But, hey, as I said, I’m also willing to admit that it’s me and not her and others may not come to the same conclusion.
The screenplay is written by committee including Gillian (any relation?) Robespierre (who also directed), Karen Maine, Elisabeth Holm, and is based on a short film by Robespierre, Maine and Anna Bean. I’m not saying this demonstrates the old saw that too many cooks spoil the broth, but I also can’t find that much to disprove it here either.
The characters and dialog are fairly flat and uninspired. The directing the same. And the plotting is a bit clunky at times. After Donna gives the boot to Max, the guy who knocked her up (he finds her again at the bookstore she works at three weeks later after their first and only hook up, which feels a bit too much like going overboard with the three day rule to me, but I’m not up to date on contemporary mating rituals), the writers have to find a way to get them back together.
So they make Max a former student of Donna’s mother who comes to the mother’s apartment to return a book just when Donna happens to be there by herself.
Hey, it could happen.
Max himself is not a particularly interesting character either, symbolized (as far as I’m concerned) by his boy next door hair cut (worn unironically) and his button down shirts and khakis, all of which might actually indicate that he may very well be the perfect match for Donna.
But when it comes to Max, there is one part of the screenplay I simply didn’t buy.
Donna puts off telling Max she is pregnant. She asks him to come to one of her standups, and he arrives just as she goes on stage. And it’s there, in a comedy routine, that she reveals she’s going to abort the baby he helped conceive.
The problem with the scene is that the way it’s written and directed, it’s dramatized as a mean, cruel act on Donna’s part, revealing something so important in a casual manner in front of a bunch of strangers in an effort to get a few yuks off of it, and with absolutely no forewarning. Max, understandably, leaves devastated.
But then the next day, he shows up, offering to accompany her to her doctor’s appointment, her knight in shining armor, all understanding and sympathetic, and not remotely in character based on what happened the previous night (I suppose I should say, thank God for off screen conversions, except they are not usually the best way to handle something like this).
But, hey, it could happen redux.
I know I’ve been very hard on this movie. I’ve been mean and snarky. I know, I know. And I feel a bit guilty about it. I do, I do.
It’s an independent film that a lot of people put a lot of work into and hey, not only did they get it done, they got it out there, and apparently it’s a success in a way I wish more independent films were.
At the same time, I’m sorry. I wish I could be more supportive, but for me, it also shows so much of what’s wrong with American indies these days. There’s a lack of imagination and daring and originality to it. It’s a pretty safe and bland film that may be about a controversial subject, but isn’t remotely challenging or thought provoking.
I mean, if you want to see a movie about abortion that will really sucker punch you in the gut, you need to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, a movie that just about defines edgy, controversial and daring.
But right now, Obvious Child defines more what I call middle-brow entertainment—a film that makes you think you are wrestling with something daring, but in reality, the whole thing is pulling its punches, taking no chances, and doesn’t really take the subject matter anywhere remotely new.
It’s a safe movie about abortion.
If that’s your sort of thing.
With the SNL banished Jenny Slate as Donna and Jake Lacy as Max.