Worthy indeed is the goal that Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child sets itself on: To honestly tackle the subject of abortion from a female feminist perspective. Still a taboo subject in an allegedly progressive Obama-era America, abortion’s portrayal on film – in Hollywood or otherwise – is consequently rare. Indeed, aside from made-for-television-or-cable movies, abortion is very rarely made the centerpiece of American films. Whenever the subject is brought up in films such as Juno or Knocked Up, it is quickly evacuated with the same uncomfortable haste with which a show host might display in trying to get a particularly offensive comedian off the stage before the crowd gets too angry. Knocked Up, for all its candid portrayal of relationships and adult immaturities, was too afraid to even mention the word, preferring to instead say that it “rhymes with shmashmortion”. So desperately in need of authenticity in its cinematic depictions is this subject that Obvious Child’s ultimate inability to live up to its own objectives is rendered all the more disappointing.
Aside from the breakup-induced drinking that gets her pregnant during a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy, who looks like a slightly beefed-up Michael Cera), none of the aforementioned issues ultimately matter. Her financial problems are casually mentioned from time to time without getting any more relevant and her parents exist mostly to dispense life advice and comfort at dramatically convenient times. This is one of Obvious Child’s major failings: In its endeavor to subvert abortion clichés, it allows itself to wallow in romantic comedy clichés and ends up losing on both fronts: None of the characters ever break out of the prepackaged set of rules they’ve been assigned: The supportive female best friend, the mother who appears somewhat cold and out of touch but turns out to have more in common with her daughter than the latter suspected, the gay male best friend whose sex life and love life is discussed but never actually proven to exist… These characters have no true individual identity of their own and remain firmly inside their boxes. Nellie does tease the possibility of standing out among them when the topic of her own past abortion is brought up, but never goes through with it.