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Abortion comedy movie works: Obvious Child is funny and sweet rather than offensive

Alex Bentley
Jake Lacy and Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
Jake Lacy and Jenny Slate face an issue in Obvious Child that doesn't usually come up in rom-coms. Photo by Chris Teague
Gaby Hoffman and Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
Jenny Slate plays Donna, a stand-up comedian hit by a spate of bad news. Photo by Chris Teague
Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy in Obvious Child
Despite the heavy subject matter, there's a lot of fun to be had in Obvious Child. Photo by Chris Teague

Movies are so homogenized in the 21st century that it counts as a shock when a film takes a true risk. That is certainly the case with Obvious Child, a comedy that dares to broach the hot-button issue of abortion — and is all the more funny because of it.

The film (which opens at River Oaks Theatre this Friday) follows Donna (Jenny Slate), a stand-up comedian who, in short order, gets broken up with and loses her day job at a soon-to-close bookstore. Rocked by the double dose of bad news, she turns to drinking, has a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy) and soon thereafter discovers she is pregnant.

 Those who see the words “comedy about abortion” and shun it right away will be missing a heartfelt and truly funny movie. 

So where’s the controversy? Well, Donna quickly and unflinchingly decides she wants to have an abortion, a choice that not only causes her no existential guilt, but is also one that writer/director Gillian Robespierre somehow mines for laughs.

To be fair, the film’s comedy isn’t about abortion itself, but it also never backs away from the topic.

The decision and the relative ease with which it is treated stand in stark contrast to how the subject is normally handled. It helps matters that the character who makes the choice is a comedian, giving the audience tacit permission to laugh at pretty much anything she does.

Also aiding in the laughs is Donna’s growing bond with Max, a guy who turns out to be a bit better than your normal one-night stand. By exploring whether or not Donna and Max want to give a relationship a shot with the impending abortion hanging over their heads, Robespierre has given the tired “will they or won’t they?” plot a welcome and inspired twist.

Slate, who also starred in the short film on which the feature is based, impresses greatly as Donna. She’s hilarious, vulnerable and charming, but more important, she sells the conceit of the movie without a hint of preachiness.

Also great is Lacy, who manages to come across as both humble and supremely confident at the same time. Previously best known for his role during the final season of The Office, this part has the potential to catapult him into movie stardom.

Special mention should also be made of Gaby Hoffman and Gabe Liedman as Donna’s two best friends, and Richard Kind and Polly Draper as her parents. Each brings real humor and honesty to his or her respective roles, which keeps the rest of the film flowing as it should.

There will be those who see the words “comedy about abortion” and shun it right away, but they’ll be missing a genuine, heartfelt and truly funny movie. Obvious Child is an apolitical film that cares only about people and laughs.

Isn’t that refreshing?

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