Friday, June 13, 2014

The Abortion Movie

Have you guys seen the abortion movie yet? I know we’re not calling it that-- but that’s what it is. The abortion movie—because it is the first movie to treat women who choose to have abortions with the compassion and respect they deserve.

As much as I enjoyed Waitress, Juno, Knocked Up, and every other movie revolving around an unplanned pregnancy, they all managed to stigmatize this safe and legal procedure. Until now, the message Hollywood was sending women who dared to go through those clinic doors was “you made the wrong choice.” 

Given these past offenses, Obvious Child needed to happen. Jenny Slate, the star of this trailblazing movie, described her new film as a modern narrative that “feels good in its own skin.” 

I couldn’t have said it any better myself—but let me still try.

This film contributes to the rise of the regular chick. It’s the way you felt the first time you watched Girlsbefore it got so problematic— observing each character's shortcomings and thinking, “Hey, that’s just like me.”

Obvious Child writer and director Gillian Robespierre said she wanted to put somebody on the screen who was an actual person. Her leading lady is both funny and vulnerable--- a rare combo in a chick flick. But more importantly, she's extremely likable.

“It’s really cool to see an actually funny, actually romantic comedy-- and to see something that feels authentic and real, without shame or regret, but not without a complexity of emotion,” said Liz Holm, the film’s producer, who also happens to be the director of Kickstarter's film program.

Holm got involved because Obvious Child felt like a movie Hollywood wasn’t going to make, supporting “not only the right to choose, but the right to have a complex experience,” she said.

Yes, this movie about abortion is a love story. But the real driving force behind Obvious Child is friendship. Slate and her co-star Gaby Hoffmann play Donna and Nellie, two roommates whose BFF status is so solid, you’ll be asking your own bestie, “Why can’t you be more like her?”

There is no competition, no jealousy—just appreciation and acceptance, not to mention the constant support required to survive adulthood. (Sigh.) Beyond strong relationships with lady friends, there are also dynamic relationships with parents, and complicated relationships with men. Nothing is simple. Nothing is constant. But that’s life, kiddos. 

These inconsistencies and imperfections, the things Hollywood usually glosses over, are what make this movie totally perfect. Embracing every opportunity to do things differently, there are five specific moments that set this film apart from all others.

Donna’s One Night Stand

This encounter includes copious amounts of alcohol, all of the  awkwardness, and a really adorable depiction of immediate “I just met you, this is crazy” attraction. There is no nudity, no thrusting, just nervous feelings. And some dancing. Maybe a little outdoor urination. And one pee-fart.   

Donna’s Visit to Planned Parenthood

Don’t quote me, but I really do believe this is the first time we see an actress actually enter a clinic. Usually, overwhelmed by protesters, they turn on their heels, signaling the start of their journey into motherhood. Not here. Donna knows exactly what she wants, and has an accurate consultation with a healthcare provider whose only agenda is letting women like Donna know all of their options before they finalize their decision.

Nellie’s Impassioned Cunt Speech

Damn, Gaby Hoffmann. I knew I liked you. This actress always plays fearless women who march to the beat of their own drum. First the science-obsessed realist Sam, in Now and Then. Also the sex-obsessed revolutionary Odette, in All I Wanna Do. And more recently, the crazy, crazy, oh-so-crazy “Caroline” in Girls. She is the queen of memorable monologues, and her portrayal of Nellie does not disappoint. Furthermore, Nellie’s wise words concerning women’s autonomy over their bodies should inspire all of us to get up and cheer for reproductive rights. 

Donna’s Friend’s Abortion

Yup. Nellie, Donna’s roommate and best friend, had an abortion. In high school. And she is an endless source of truth, encouragement, wit and support.

Donna’s Mom’s Abortion

Yup. Mom, who Donna does not always get along with, transitions from adversary to ally in this big reveal. Fearing the worst, Donna confides in her mother, who reciprocates wholeheartedly. Turns out, while she was in college (in the 60’s) she terminated a pregnancy. It was no coat-hanger procedure, but it happened on a kitchen table, out-of-state, which was often the case in the days before Roe V. Wade.

The movie excels at unlocking the mysteries surrounding women’s sexualities and women’s health. As statistics go, one in three women will have an abortion, but in this film, it’s three out of three.

“Our idea was to show three different stories women had, in three different ways, and they didn’t define their lives,” said Robespierre. And yet, her movie is not just about abortion:
What we wanted to do was stick to the romantic comedy genre. So it was never gonna be about will she or won’t she have the abortion. She made that choice swiftly, early on in the film, when she discovered she was pregnant. But we wanted to keep to the tropes of the romantic comedy, so it was will she or won’t she end up with the guy.
Holm also emphasized abortion is only part of the whole. “The movie is an honest story about a woman’s experience and her life,” she said. And yet, the media has successfully labeled it the abortion movie-- because it really is the first one.

For Slate, that means her first leading role looks a lot like activism.

According to her, it’s a movie about a woman "just trying to deal with the many moving pieces in her life.” But this isn’t just any woman. This is Donna, a stand-up comedian played by Slate, so it’s funny. Like, really funny. And edgy. Like, really edgy. As Holm put it, “This is not exactly a PSA.”

Some might find a humorous tone inappropriate for the topic. Robespierre defended the character she created, explaining “she’s just a funny person, and she’s going to comment on anything that happens in her life with a little slice of humor."

Slate, who is directly responsible for any audience enjoyment, believes funny things can be said without making the whole subject a joke, and laughter doesn’t necessarily mean disrespect. It can also mean relief.

“It’s okay to play boundaries if you play with them respectfully—and have your own identity and a clear place that you’re coming from,” Slate said.

Besides being hilarious, Obvious Child is also authentic. The clinic scenes were shot in an actual Planned Parenthood, giving some viewers their first ever glimpse inside. Intimately following Donna’s experience, this film has the potential to start some much-needed dialogue.

Of course anti-abortion backlash is expected, but the director is optimistic. “We’re really excited for whatever conversations it ignites in the coming weeks. Positive or negative, at least people are talking about it,” said Robespierre.

Slate understands the nuance, as well as the potential of a film dealing with abortion in this way. “It’s important to show flexibility in issues that tend to make us feel closed out, because that’s how they become more normal,” said Slate.

And really, there is no issue more in need of a little flexibility.