Interview: Jenny Slate And Gillian Robespierre Tell Us How Obvious Child Is Changing the Rom-Com
If you haven't seen Obvious Child yet, which is very likely since it comes out today, go see it. No, really, I'm doing you and your future happiness a favor. This abortion-themed rom-com is the world's greatest oxymoron, as well as one of the best movies you'll ever see. For those of you who don't know, it stars Jenny Slate — beloved in my heart for being a shoe-wearing shell — as she tries to get through the perfect storm of disasters in one piece. First she's broken up with, then she's laid off, and finally she discovers she's pregnant by a guy she just met. Oh, and I should mention, this all happens in the first thirty minutes. Not only was I lucky enough to see the movie early, but I also got a chance to sit down with director Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate to talk about it.
While the plot might sound like a typical rom-com, Robespierre disagrees:
“We had a couple goals: one was to write a romantic comedy that had an actually funny leading lady who was relatable and realistic and authentic and someone who looks and sounds like us. A lot of romantic comedies don’t have the brown hair, big nose girl, and that’s fine, but those characters are usually relegated to the best friend role and I always liked that person and when they’d pop back in I’d always think, ‘I want to follow her, not this yellow haired girl.'”
The desire to create an authentic, relatable story amidst the clumsy, manic pixie dream girl, gimmick-filled genre, is difficult for any film, but especially one centered around an abortion. Robespierre found a way, however, and she did it by staying close to her vision:
“We wanted to show a regret-free, safe abortion and show a choice that has been silenced by our culture and the mainstream media for a long time. We just felt that the romantic comedy was a great structure to use because it’s really a genre that I love and it’s very entertaining and powerful and not a horrific experience for everyone.”
Everyone also includes the gender commonly forgotten in rom-coms, men. Robespierre comments on the gender inclusion by stating,
“I’m psyched. The jokes that we wanted to tell and the story that we wanted to tell transcends gender and yet it’s a romantic comedy. I think romantic comedies get that rep that they’re only for women, but I sat down with my fiancé and we watched When Harry Met Sally — he had never seen it before — and he loved it and kept on talking about it the next day.”
And it's obvious she achieved her vision with the help of Jenny Slate, who Robespierre describes as her muse. Slate expertly encapsulates the hilarious, vulnerable, and intelligent Donna Stern, and was extremely excited when she was offered the role, as she's always wanted to be a film actress:.
“This is something I’ve always to do, to play a woman with real ups and downs and emotions and different relationships so I was very ready for it when it came up.”
It's true, Donna does experience a wider range of emotions and feelings in comparison to Slate's other characters — a challenge well accepted and tackled most notably during the actual abortion scene when Donna begins to cry.
“Though Donna’s choice is really clear she still has a really complicated experience after that and she’s entitled to a human experience. For me, filming that scene is like, well, she’s sedated and it’s kinda funny that she sees the Crocs and you’re in a room that’s completely sterile and nothing else is human but you and you have a sense of being completely alone and in control, she’s about to have a safe procedure and it’s her choice and she’s totally clear on that, but it’s the sense of being alone and the beauty and the separateness of that overwhelms her and she does cry.”
Variants on this scene most likely occur throughout clinics across the United States and Slate performs it well, proving you are allowed to have emotions and shed a tear even while knowing that you're making the right decision for yourself.
Because abortion is one of the most controversial issues in America today, everyone's going to have an opinion on Obvious Child, whether they see it or not. When asked about this and whether the film glorifies abortion, Robespierre answers thoughtfully:
“We’re not glorifying abortion…I don’t think abortion is a procedure that can’t be glorified. This character is not going through it glibly; she’s thoughtful and rational and mature about it. I know she tells a lot of shit and piss jokes but she is talking to every person in her life about what’s going on, and to me that’s someone who’s mature and thoughtful.”
And Slate seems to agree, adding that she hopes this opens up new potential for the future of romantic comedies:
“I hope in general that there are more movies like our movie meaning more movies that sort of focus on a human experience rather than giant gimmicks. I’d like to see Obvious Child hit the mainstream and show everybody that you can still giant laughs out of a story that is basically fairly simple.”
And I truly believe it will. Whether you're pro-choice or not, Obvious Child is changing the rom-coms for the better by taking the story of many American women and giving it a hilarious edge without losing its heart and purpose. While it's worth the $11 simply to hear Jenny Slate go on about discharge and diarrhea, the underlying tone of the film will stick with you long after you finish your Milk Duds.