That the film opens with the startlingly frank statement: ‘I used to hide what my vagina did to my underpants’, sets the tone for the rest of the film. This is confrontational, hilarious and on-point storytelling. It shows life for the messiness it can sometimes be, but in a light that is thoroughly hopeful, endearing and painstakingly true.
We meet Donna Stern (SNL alumni Jenny Slate) on the precipice of her quarter-life crisis. She’s staving off unemployment and student loan bills whilst dealing with divorced parents, break-ups, and one night stands, all whilst moonlighting as a stand-up comic in a Brooklyn dive bar. Oh and then there’s the small matter of her abortion…
Gillian Robespierre’s razor-sharp writing and confident direction, paired with Slate’s bewitching charm and dirty laugh make for a thoroughly entertaining and authentic exploration of one’s bumbling through their mid-twenties. It will draw comparisons to Girls, (not least because it stars Gaby Hoffmann as Donna’s acerbic, feminist and staunch BFF) but it feels less satirical and contrived – like an episode of said show that isn’t trying so hard to be funny and relevant. It just happens to be that way.
Robespierre tackles everything from drunk dialling, humiliation, awkward dates and dancing with strangers in your undies, to more emotionally hefty fare, such as taking responsibility for your actions. All of this is achieved with candour and a feeling of spontaneity that won’t have you gagging at how gosh darn hipster it all is (e.g. Donna works at the bookstore “Unoppressive and Non-Imperialist Bargain Books).
Equally, it tackles the issue of abortion with sensitivity and clarity; and a warmth that feels like an old friend handing you a cup of tea and saying ‘everything is going to be ok’. In Robespierre’s hands, you feel it just might be.
I have a lot of issues with the film Juno. For all its lovable quirk, kitschy vernacular and self-conscious indie branding (I’m looking at you Moldy Peaches), there lurks a distinctly conservative and regressive undercurrent. Abortion is mentioned as an option for Juno, but is just as quickly brushed under the carpet and the clinic that features in the film bristles with intrusion and depravity.
Obvious Child on the other hand, and by extension, Donna, deals with the procuring of an abortion with maturity and neutrality. It’s always treated as not just her choice, but also her right to make the decision. What’s more, Robespierre seems determined to reveal how commonplace abortions are in modern society and however alone or scandalous you might feel; there are other women in exactly the same situation.
The chemistry between Jenny Slate, and her straight-laced, boat-shoe wearing one-night-stand, Jake Lacy (familiar to US The Office fans), is palpable and decidedly adorable. It’s another means by which the film breaks out of convention and by which Donna learns that growing up might mean being a tad more sensible, but that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their interactions have that nervous flirtatiousness and it literally feels like the most honestly realised depiction of a relationship in its early stages that I have ever seen.
This is a well-intentioned and well-executed humdinger of a film that could easily have you ROFL-ing one minute and blubbering the next. Plus any film that features poo and fart jokes, whilst maintaining dignity is a winner in my book.
It’s bravery in demystifying the thorny issue of abortion and not sitting on the political fence, makes this film not just deliciously accomplished, but also fucking important.
N.B. I want Jenny Slate to be my friend.
Verdict: Smart, sensitive and progressive. You should obviously see it.