Summer is finally approaching. Our metaphorical strip poker game with the seasons has started to shift—every day a new article of clothing disappears. Gone are the oversized sweaters, the scarves, and the long underwear. People are on the street again. Sex is in the air. Bars are bustling. Tinder is bumping. Whether you've made it through the winter gauntlet with a relationship still intact or you're on the spectrum of singleness, you'll be needing a killer date for your special someone.
Luckily, the ever-reliable romantic comedy film genre has got you covered this summer with Obvious Child, a subversive abortion date movie. When I sit through rom-coms I'm always thinking, What would happen if someone farted right now? and Where are the Holocaust jokes? Well, this movie's got it all—especially unplanned pregnancy.
Obvious Child centers around the plight of Donna Stern (Jenny Slate from SNL and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On) after a one-night-stand leaves her pregnant and heading to Planned Parenthood. In her feature debut, director Gillian Robespierre set out to make a different type of story. All of the traditional tropes still come into play, but the sharp writing and Jenny Slate's singular sense of humor make the story far more relatable and entertaining than something that Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Aniston, and Cameron Diaz could ever hope to pull off.
The movie has been an international hit on the film festival circuit, and is the opening weekend feature film for NYC's Rooftop Films 18th Summer Series this Saturday, May 17.
Full disclosure: I work at Rooftop Films, but I'd be pimping this event regardless. The movie is great, you'll get to meet Jenny and Gillian, hear the amazing band Rumors and get tons of free booze after the movie.
To get you hyped for the Rooftop screening, I interviewed Gillian Robespierre. She was so excited, she peed and farted at the same time. That's who we're dealing with.
VICE: What was the impetus to make an abortion rom-com?
Gillian Robespierre: In 2009, my best friends Anna Bean, Karen Maine, and I wrote a short film called Obvious Child. It was the same premise: A girl gets dumped, has a one-night-stand, and then has a first date in an unlikely place, which was Planned Parenthood.
We shot in the winter of 2009, and we were struggling to find an actress for the role of Donna. The person had to be witty and also have dramatic range. We randomly went to go see this free comedy show called Big Terrific. It used to be in the back of a liquor store, which is now a very fancy restaurant.
Jenny Slate performed. She was so funny onstage that we decided to meet her afterward. Jenny and I have very similar tastes—not just in bodily humor. She has a confessional storytelling type of comedy that runs the gamut of hilarious and truly gentle and clean. Anna, Karen, and I looked at each other and just said, "Holy shit, she's amazing." Luckily, we had a friend in common. We emailed Jenny to discuss the short, and she said, "Yes." The rest is history.
Was that around the time Jenny said fuck on SNL?
Yeah, in 2010. She got on SNL right after our summer wrap party. We all watched her first episode, and she said fuck. I didn't even hear it. It just grazed by my ears.
How much of this tale is autobiographical, whether it be pee-farting or abortions?
We really just wanted to tell a different story about choice, and about something that the movie industry was not really focusing on when it came to tales about unplanned pregnancy. There was this slew of movies that came out in the mid-2000s that just didn't really ring true for us. A movie with a happy ending and also a safe procedure was very exciting to us. We really wanted to figure out how to make it entertaining and still sleek. And the pee-fart happens. I pee-farted twice today already.
We can mention Juno and Knocked Up by name. It doesn't bother me.
I like those movies. I'm not shitting on them. And those aren't the only ones that came out around that time. There were a slew of them. Also, it was around the time when the Gloucester pregnancy pact story came out, where a bunch of 16-year-olds in Gloucester, Massachusetts, slept with the same drifter and got pregnant because they had a pact to have babies at 16.
I feel like US magazine and all the tabloids always have photos that kind of glamorize young starlets who have children. I don't watch MTV because I'm too old and don't have cable, but I think kids might walk away from 16 and Pregnant and say, "I could do that." There's something one-sided going on with unplanned pregnancy. I just wanted to share the other side.
Did you feel a responsibility to tell a mature story mixed with an immature character who has made poor decisions?
I don't know if it was a responsibility. We wanted to create a character who was emotionally, intellectually, and financially unprepared to be a mother and so she decides to have an abortion. Also, we knew the choice had to remain as unclear to her as her feelings are towards Max (played by Jake Lacy—we just called him "baby-daddy").
We just wanted to tell that story and also have it be compelling while following this honest and loveable main character in the Rom-Com genre. Jenny is naturally a very funny person and her honesty and empathy make her a little more likeable or lovable. I think she's excellent at mixing those two emotions: Being very sad in one second and very hilarious and bawdy in the next. She's very good at balancing that as a performer.
I thought the abortion was well-handled in terms of having it be her decision and Jake Lacy's character being mature enough to understand that.
We didn't just want it to be Donna's story, even though she's the main character. It was important to make the leading man just as compassionate and empathetic and wonderful as you would want a leading man in a romantic comedy to be—without that moment where he's like "stop it, let's get married!" We wanted him be sweet, supportive, and kind—and also funny. The chemistry between those two is incredible. Jake really holds his own against Jenny.
Did their relationship and jokes come out of improvisation, or was most of it scripted?
Jenny and I realized how much we liked to work together during the short. This was all a script that we wrote. When it comes to the stand-up routine, Jenny is the stand-up. I'm just a fan. I'd never get on stage—I'd throw up! I did a lot of research, but when it came down to writing, I wrote a goddamn monologue. It was not stand-up comedy. Jenny definitely used some of her brilliant brain to translate that into a stand-up routine. I think she's one of the funniest comedians and actresses of our generation.
Yeah, I'd probably pee-fart if I got on stage.
I'm slowly getting into Q&As, but that's easy. Somebody's asking me a question. I don't have to go up there and try to be funny.
What is the worst question you've been asked in an interview?
I think the most surprising question is, "Was it ever written with a different ending?" Even though the trailer mentions abortion like 50 times, people are still shocked that she goes through with the procedure. We've been brainwashed by movies into believing that the handsome hunky guy will save you and then you're going to live happily ever after by getting married and having a kid, even though the couple in the film shouldn't do that. Even after reading everything about the film, people still can't believe that she goes through with the abortion.
See you Saturday!
Obvious Child kicks off Rooftop Films 18th Summer Series this Saturday, May 17, at Industry City (Secret Party Cove) in Brooklyn. Doors open at 8 PM, with live music from Rumors followed by the film screening at 9 PM. Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate will be on-hand for a Q&A afterwards. If you donate right now, you can get a membership to Rooftop Films to see 45 new, independent movies this summer, meet tons of filmmakers, drink buckets of free booze, and do a ton of other weird and fun shit. If you don't live in New York City, look out for Obvious Child in theaters on June 6th.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall, mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.