She may be 27 years old, but Donna Stern is far from having her life figured out. After being dumped by her cheating boyfriend, the stand-up comedian vents her heartbreak through a humiliatingly drunk stand-up show, in which her jokes quickly turn to the holocaust and fall to a silent audience. Awkwardly, it gets worse. She faces eviction, being a disappointment to her career driven mother, and becoming the epitome poster girl for the woman who dies alone with her cats. It only takes one night and one man however – both in a drunken haze, for her to realise that no one really has life figured out, and more importantly, that’s ok.
Obvious Child reflects the quirky and endearing awkwardness of Juno and Knocked Up. The film’s Director Gillian Robespierre herself spoke comparatively of these two films in the Q&A after its premier at Sundance London in April earlier this year. To compare Obvious Child to these films gives an inclination to their common plot line – an unexpected pregnancy. Where Obvious Child mesmerisingly differs however is in its exploration of what happens when a woman in her twenties actually goes through with an abortion.
The film’s ultimate message and what garnered it praise at Sundance was its contemporary and realistic presentation that women do not have to be defined by their decision to abort a pregnancy. Bpas’ (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) ongoing campaign ‘What do you call a woman who’s had an abortion? Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend.’, though not an immediate influence to Robespierre, can certainly be felt in the film. In its unique voice, the film faces the controversy of abortion by undermining it with its true to life and witty dialogue, paradoxically making aware how long overdue and un-unique its ‘unique’ voice is.
A memorable scene in which Donna has the abortion scheduled, reflects the film’s worldly sincerity when she not only bursts out crying because the procedure costs more than her rent, but must also laugh at the irony when the only available appointment is on Valentine’s Day. The film has many comparable traits in its fearlessness to HBO’s GIRLS: blunt, vulnerable, honest, and funny. Viewers of the television show would certainly feel at home in the world Robespierre has created. It appears that there has been a shift with young female comedy writers including Lena Dunham (GIRLS) and Gillian Robespierre, who are unafraid of bringing the parts of reality to the screen, which many would like to pretend never occur in the first place.
The characterisation and tender relationships between Donna and her father, and surprisingly Max – the one night stand who charismatically extends the one night rule, (played by Jake Lacy, warning: you will fall in love with him) is what ultimately brings heart and humour to a film whose premise could otherwise be misinterpreted.
To label Obvious Child as a romantic comedy limits the power of its beautifully balanced dialogue, interplaying dramatic exasperation and honest comedic one-liners that will continue the film into the parlance of everyday life. Devoid of clichés, it refreshingly illustrates contemporary relationships between men and women and the realisation that while the pressure may feel new, finding your way in the world and pregnancy has been endured by many before. As Gillian Robespierre’s feature debut, Obvious Child is certainly set to be the parent to a plethora of witty and off-kilter films in the filmmaker’s future.