After several tantrums about how movies with keep-the-baby messages spread “consoling fictions,” Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday was duty-bound to adore the “abortion comedy” Obvious Child, but did she have to embarrass herself by insisting it “may be the most pro-life movie of the year”?
Somehow, the movie Juno presented abortion as a “non-option,” but Hornaday loves a movie where keeping the baby is never an option. Depicting an abortion as the center of a “romantic comedy” is “cultural watershed territory,” she oozed at review’s end:
That choice, and how it’s depicted, vaults “Obvious Child” beyond just another savvy New York indie and into cultural watershed territory: After years of movies that depict abortion as a non-option (the worst offender being Juno, which had to set up the straw man of a dingy, disgusting clinic for the teenage heroine to continue her pregnancy), “Obvious Child” dares to portray Donna’s decision in a way that’s serious and emotionally consequential but not fraught with crippling anxiety, shame or regret.
Because Donna processes everything through her comedy, Obvious Child occasionally tiptoes and then stomps right over the line of good taste. There are one-liners that seem designed to validate every negative stereotype of callous urban liberals ever concocted by the far right. But [Gillian] Robespierre has the courage to take those interpretive lumps, in service to a larger point: that we’ve reached a moment in our social, political and cultural life when the non-punitive portrayal of a woman exercising her right to a safe and legal abortion is considered more taboo than the numbing succession of murders, maimings, disfigurements and assaults we consume on a weekly basis in movie theaters and on TV.
Through it all, even despite her crankiest, most selfish and adolescent moments, Donna earns the audience’s support, thanks largely to the inherent sweetness Slate brings to her screwed-up but lovable character. There are as many awkward, discomfiting sequences in Obvious Child as there are interludes of genuine fun and romance. The result is a movie that feels risky and forgiving and, despite its traditional rom-com contours, refreshingly new. If we can stipulate that existence is an inherently messy affair, ungainly and contradictory and confoundingly unresolved, then Obvious Child may be the most pro-life movie of the year.
That may be the most dishonest pratfall of a sentence in the Post this year.
Earlier in the review Hornaday tried to contain her glee by acknowledging acknowledge that filmmaker Gillian Robespierre made this movie coarse and “clearly sees profanity as a legitimate arrow in the quiver of liberation, a mode of bracing, confrontational candor that instantly disarms fusty structures of sexism and other depredations.” But she then suggests that by having the abortion, Jenny Slate’s character sheds “cavalier self-involvement” and finds wisdom and compassion and personal growth:
Seen through another lens, Donna and her friends’ constant – and often unfunny — swearing and nattering on about sex and other bodily functions resembles a group of little kids seeing just how much they can get away with before being sent to permanent timeout. That immaturity is at the core of Obvious Child, in which Donna gets dumped, loses her job and faces an unplanned pregnancy after a drunken one-night stand. The whole point of the film is that she’s unformed, using her 20s to experiment and make mistakes and, in the case of deciding whether to terminate her pregnancy, make the decisions that will ultimately create a more experienced — maybe even wiser and more compassionate — adult human being.
That balance — between annoying, cavalier self-involvement and genuine vulnerability and growth — is what keeps Obvious Child interesting, making it one of the most startlingly honest romantic comedies to appear onscreen in years.
It is “startlingly honest” to make an unabashed Planned Parenthood-endorsed abortion comedy. It’s a “consoling fiction” to make a movie with an adoption ending. A happy liberal ending? “Honest.” A happy conservative ending? “Fiction.” It’s pretty clear how much Hornaday lets politics, and not art color her reviews.
LifeNews.com Note: Tim Graham is the director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, a media watchdog group. He was a White House correspondent for World magazine in 2001 and 2002. This originally appeared on the NewsBusters web site.