Lest We Forget Obvious Child


FYI: if you haven’t seen the excellent Obvious Child, spoilers are ahead.

December is my favorite time of year for movies. It’s the heat of Oscar season, so many films I’ve been hearing about for months – via Sundance, Cannes, Toronto – will finally make it to commercial release. I’m pleased to see Boyhood getting all the buzz that it has; Birdman remains my favorite film of 2014, though Whiplash is a pretty damn close second. Still ahead for me to see: American Sniper, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Selma, A Most Violent Year, Nightcrawler, and Top Five. I’m pretty sure when I’m in South Jersey for the holidays, I’ll end up seeing Mr. Turner or Into The Woods with my parents.

2014’s been a rich year for character dramas – especially on the indie level (seriously, what hasn’t A24 released yet?). But one film getting lost in the shuffle of all the “Best Films of 2014” articles now popping-up is – I think – one of the most important movies of the decade and a comedy at that; that movie is Obvious Child.

There’s a lot about this film that makes it wonderful: Jenny Slate’s performance; Gillian Robespierre’s script and direction; David Cross in an ill-fitting tanktop – c’mon, America!

But Obvious Child is a comedy about a young woman getting an abortion. Well… there’s more to it than that – the same way there’s more to The Producers, Dr. Strangelove, The Landlord, or Harold and Maude. Those were also dark comedies that tackled big stuff – nuclear war, institutional racism, The Holocaust – with a lot of poise and earnest. They were also all produced during the 1960s, one of America’s uneasiest decades in cultural history. So maybe it’s no coincidence – as feminist politics has become a mainstream talking point since 2008 – that Obvious Child is now here: a whipsmart, self-effacing niece to the aforementioned titles.

Slate’s Donna Stern is a lovable but messy stand-up comedian, who gets dumped by her asshole boyfriend, loses her day job, and its the dead of winter in New York City – a season when you never want to leave your house because climate change has turned the city menopausal. To stave off depression, Donna hastily hooks up with Max, a really nice guy b-school student, and they forget to use a condom. And then Donna gets pregnant. And then Max falls for her, not being the wiser. And then Gabe Liedman and Gabby Hoffman showcase the coolest Gay Best Friend-Roommate duo ever captured on cinema – which made me wonder, “Why don’t I have a gay best friend?” Well then again: I’m a white, straight dude, so I would also need a podcast.

In a time when our culture is becoming increasingly politicized but remains oddly ignorant, Obvious Child is a straightforward, funny look at how young people fuck up. And the “fuck up” here is understandable. Let’s be honest, proto-millenials: if you’ve remained single into your 30s and live in a big city, you’ve had unprotected sex with a stranger or casual acquaintance at least once. For whatever reason, it happened. The only people who are going to judge you are the conservative assholes who have misinformed opinions about everything. And they’re the reason Creed was a big deal, so who cares what they think?

Fucking Up is the only way kids in their 20s learn how to become adults in their 30s. Fucking Up means dealing with the scary side of life, and figuring out how to get to the other end in one piece. Obvious Child shows a young woman – without health insurance – having to make a tough decision about her body and her life, and doing it with a great sense of humor. The last movie I remember laughing this hard at in a theater was The Big Lebowski – and I was 15.

Part of why this film’s jokes land so hard is that the plot is terrifying. There’s no moral dilemma in Obvious Child (sorry, Kirk Cameron). Instead, Donna’s pregnancy shines a light on all the glaring uncertainties of her life. If you take a hard look at 21st Century adulthood, you would think Darwin is trying to kill all of us: college debt isn’t going away; no one wants to pay a living wage; Tinder has made us all a little more shallow; and in show business, if you’re not careful and enterprising, you’ll be eating Ramen forever.

Now that I think about it: I’m surprised anyone I grew up with is now a parent; Godspeed, you Kings of New England.

In Donna’s case, there would be nothing responsible about becoming a mother. Which sets-up a question a new generation of taxpayers now confront: who would take on more responsibilities when there’s a lot of yourself left to figure out? In a world that demands more time, more expenses, more personal sacrifices well past your 20s – what’s the point of keeping up with the Joneses? Futhermore: why bring a child into this mess?

There was another thing about Obvious Child; a revelation, in fact. In the film’s penultimate scene – when the abortion is done, and Donna sits in the recovery room, looking at the myriad of other women who have undergone the same procedure that day – it hit me: “Holy shit… this is part of being a woman. Something like this happens to all of them at some point.”

It would be really stupid for me to say, “NOW I GET IT!” I’m white, and own a Jewish penis – I will never really get it. But I did have that moment good art aspires to: communicating something universal about the human condition; profound, even. And it has stuck with me – as a man, as a heterosexual, as a “comedy person”, and as a writer – since June 2014.

I only bought 2 Blu-Rays this year: the 4K remaster of Ghostbusters I & II, and Obvious Child. At this point, I don’t think I need to explain why. But I will say: if you haven’t seen Obvious Child yet, please see it. It’s very funny and very worthwhile.

If I ever have kids, I’ll make sure they will – when the time is right.

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