For a huge section of society, abortion is not something that needs to be debated about. It is a given that some women must seek these procedures out when they become pregnant because they cannot have a child at that given moment for a myriad of reasons. Just like society has given unequal weight to both sides of the conversation of global warming, we have also given the radical religious fanatics that want to restrict women’s bodies too much of a voice. Obvious Child is on the surface an abortion comedy. But it treats abortion not as a political issue, but a personal one and an obvious choice to make for this woman at this point in her life. And oh yeah, it is also a fantastic romantic comedy.
Donna is a stand up comedian obsessed with talking about farting and her personal life on stage. She delivers sad facts about her life coded in witty one liners that make the small audience who come to the back of a seedy stand up comedy club laugh. We meet her at one of these performances where she talks extensively about her boyfriend. While everyone is laughing at her attempts to keep farts in her body while around him, he fumes in the background. After her set is over, he breaks up with her in a unisex bathroom and she is crushed. For her the break up has come out of left field, but he seems to have no sympathy for that. She stumbles home and spends several scenes getting drunk, stalking and fuming over her failed relationship. This culminates in a bomb performance on stage where she rambles drunkenly about her ex. Immediately after she meets a man who seems to be charmed by her brash sense of humor. They proceed to have a one night stand. A couple of weeks later she finds out that she is pregnant, but it is too early to get an abortion. She must stew on this decision for a couple of weeks while seemingly always running into this one night stand. These two dance the romance dance and Donna toys with telling him about the abortion. She finally decides to admit to him on stage that the next day she will be getting an abortion on Valentine’s day. He accepts her decision with ease and accompanies her to the clinic. They continue to dance the romance dance for a couple of more scenes before settling quietly together on a couch to watch Gone with the Wind.
The strength of this movie lies in its characters. Donna and the people who surround her (her parents, roommate, gay best friend, and the one stand man) all feel like lived in a totally realized characters. They are more than just stereotypes but rather real people who you have probably met before. In the best example of this there is a scene between Donna and her father early on in the movie. Her father has invited her over for dinner and sees that she is upset. Without making a big deal about it, he cooks her her favorite meal. They proceed to talk about her break up and how he was able to get over the divorce he had with Donna’s mother. However before he is able to finish his story, Donna finishes it for him. She has heard this story so many times that she knows the ending and the lesson attached to it. This is a quiet scene, but a scene that showcases how close the people in her life are to her. Donna is a cute woman who has a brash sense of humor but it doesn’t seem like an affectation. She genuinely has a brash sense of humor that has been cultivated over a long period of time.
Romantic comedies have become more of a punch line than an actual genre in the last couple of years. This movie takes this punchline and turns it on its head by giving us the ability to see a realistic love story not swept up in tropes and conventions. In many ways this movie reminds me of When Harry Met Sally, one of my favorite romantic comedies. There is chemistry and incident that becomes an integral part of both of these stories. Studio run romantic comedies should take a page from Obvious Child’s book.