Google the phrase “abortion comedy” and all the entries point you to one film — “Obvious Child.”
“Finally, a romantic comedy about abortion,” raves the Los Angeles Times, among others.
Then, there are the attacks — from the right-wing blog Newsbusters, from CNS (the Christian News Service).
Followed by denials, which director Gillian Robespierre repeats, the moment the subject comes up.
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“So many people have billed it as ‘an abortion comedy.’ We don’t really think that’s what it is. We hope we’re being very thoughtful about the jokes. You get to know our heroine, and any jokes that are made from Donna’s situation come from a place of love and playfulness, making life work.”
“Obvious Child,” which opens Friday, June 20, is about a smart, profane New Yorker who works in a leftist book store by day and tests the stand-up waters of the city’s alternative comedy scene as a monologuist / stand-up comic by night. Donna, played by Jenny Slate, is in her late 20s, not really sure of who she is. But she does like to drink and, after being dumped by her boyfriend, gets drunk enough to have underprotected sex.
“There are many different ways a pregnancy story can play out,” Robespierre says. “We wanted to tell this one. We might have enjoyed ‘Juno’ or ‘Knocked Up,’ and there’s room for plenty of stories on this idea of an accidental pregnancy. But we thought this was the most honest way of treating it.”
Slate — like Robespierre, a New Yorker in her early 30s — is a character actress who has turned up in “This Means War” and “Parks & Recreation,” a voice actress who has lent her quirky sound to films such as “The Lorax” and TV shows like “Bob’s Burgers,” and a stand-up whose act Robespierre caught back in 2009.
“Donna does my sort of style of stand-up,” Slate says. “Even though the subject matter and the boundaries are a little different, she’s like me. She’s unaware of how much power she wields on the stage. She’s just very scattered about where she directs it.”
Donna’s “boundaries” include making light of her pregnancy predicament, joking around in the Planned Parenthood clinic where she goes looking for answers.
“I would like an abortion, please. Sorry, that sounded like I was ordering in a drive-through!”
Slate says that like a lot of people in their late 20s, Donna “is still in the process of figuring out who she’s supposed to be.” Adult or not, she’s not ready for a baby. And in America, in reality, if not on TV or in most films, abortion is legal and an option for women. It’s not something “Juno” gives much thought to. And it’s never seriously discussed in “Knocked Up,” even though the heroine looked like Katherine Heigl and the guy who got her pregnant was Seth Rogen.
“I wanted to make a romantic comedy with a leading lady who was strong, who had all the best jokes, who was complex and vulnerable at the same time,” says Robespierre. “And we wanted, also, to present abortion as an option. A judgment-free option. It feels more true, in this situation.”
It’s an option someone like Donna, smart but scattered, prone to sharing her mistakes on stage in the golden age of social media and oversharing, would consider, both director and star say. Even if most movies and TV shows steer clear of “the A-word” as subject matter.
“We don’t shy away from it,” Slate says. “We’re not afraid of the word ‘abortion.’ We understand the heaviness and weight to it in people’s lives. But it’s not a word that’s full of shame, judgment, or have any stigma to it.”
And “We don’t really make fun of it,” her director insists. “So I wish people would stop calling ‘Obvious Child’ ‘the abortion comedy.’ That’s not what it is.”