POSTED June 6 2014

Obvious Child: How to treat controversial issues non-controversially

Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy in Obvious Child

Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy in Obvious Child

Not seven years ago, abortion was the Great Unmentionable in American movies, unmentionable not just Hollywood ones like Knocked Up but also indie films like Waitress and Juno, euphemized as “shmashmortion,: “we don’t perform, uh…” and “nipped in the bud.” Although in 2007 one in five pregnancies ended in abortion, at the movies there seemed to be an “every sperm is sacred” policy in place.

Was it an index of how much the social pendulum had swung the other way since the 1980s, when abortion was treated matter-of-factly in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dirty Dancing? Not really, a  pro-life professor from Princeton suggested in 2007, observing that the difference between the 1980s and the aughts was not so much political change of opinion — Americans continue to be about equally divided about the medical procedure — as it was the ubiquity of the sonogram, that image of incipient life that made it harder for some to choose abortion.

All of this to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Obvious Child, Gillian Robespierre’s scabrously funny and scatological romance starring Jenny Slate as a struggling stand-up comic who has an unplanned pregnancy and chooses abortion. Although Slate’s character tries to be funny about the procedure, she is overwhelmed by a touching emotionalism. Abortion is not the subject of the film. Robespierre (who wrote and directed) smuggles in the subplot like a Trojan horse and shows the calculus behind the decision. It’s not a message movie, thank goodness.

Other directors who treat controversial issues non-controversially?



  1. Deborah Rogow says:

    Lasse Halstrom, who directed Cider House Rules. The reality of illegal abortion was presented matter-of-factly: dangerous, frightening, and sought/performed for entirely understandable reasons. It took a Swede to direct that film. BTW, I don’t think it’s the sonogram to blame for abortion becoming a more difficult choice for some women. It is the entire assault on the right to abortion, starting with it becoming much harder to find a provider outside of urban areas, cuts in funding for low-income women, proliferation of fake clinics (so-called Pregnancy Crisis Centers) advertising free care and then scaring young women with false information, etc., etc., etc. All of this led to intimidating women and shaming them for making decisions about their own lives.

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