In the new romantic comedy “Obvious Child” Jenny Slate’s character, Donna, is a self-described “menorah on top of the [Christmas] tree that burns it down.” She’s referring to her prospects with a nice goyishe boy from Vermont, with whom she proceeds to have a wacky one night stand resulting in an unintended pregnancy. Indeed, Donna, recently dumped by her boyfriend (or “dumped up with” as she calls it), crashes and burns through her young life, cracking jokes along the way, until an unlikely event — an abortion, a moment of truth-telling about her abortion — signals that she’s taken charge in a new way. The menorah ends up back on top, or at least, it’s allowing the Christmas tree to comfort it. This is progress.
“Obvious Child” is, as Jenny Slate says in her interview with the Forward, a modern film with ”the heart of a really classic romantic comedy.” Girl loses guy. Girl obsesses unnecessarily over lost guy. Girl sinks to further lows. Girl pulls herself together, partly because of the existence of New Guy. Misunderstandings give way to understandings. It’s a film that’s not revolutionary because it’s about abortion, rather but because (much like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Greenberg”) the abortion is used not as a punishment. Instead, it signals a positive choice, an affirmative change in a character’s trajectory. It may not be happy, but it shows a woman’s ownership of her mistakes, entering the driver’s seat of one’s own life.
Slate noted that the film’s use of comedy even in really dark and sad moments has a Jewish soul to it. “The presence of humor in times that are more difficult,” makes the film feel Jewish, Slate tells the Forward. Most importantly, she adds, “humor is also used as a sign of life.”
I’d further note that the fraught mother-daughter relationship between Donna and her mom, who has very high expectations, but a hidden warmth, also strikes me as quintessentially Jewish. Viewers versed in the lore of the Jewish mother will particularly enjoy Donna’s mom’s reaction to her daughter’s announcement that she’s pregnant: “Thank God, I thought you were moving to L.A.,” she says. It’s the core of sweetness underneath an exterior of bold plot choices and plenty of well-timed jokes about flatulence and bodily fluids, that makes “Obvious Child” such a pleasure to watch.