Art & Photography / AnOther Thing I Wanted to Tell You

Jenny Slate on Women & Film

Jenny Slate, star of the Sundance sensation 'Obvious Child', talks women in film

Obvious Child (2014)
Obvious Child (2014) Courtesy of Koch Media

"It used to be that the heroine in a rom-com was just perfect and sort of quirky, like the hem of her dress was falling down or something. It’s like, “she’s a mess!” and then it's the story of how she gets it together. I don’t really feel bad for that person. I am also a unique individual with a lot of problems and I have to get my shit together, and I don’t really want to see a movie about a woman who can’t do anything. I don’t really respect that. We all have to do something, you have to get your shit together. I think it’s important that the character I play is not generally incompetent, because I think that’s another way that we demean women and make them ‘quirky’. It’s not like, “she was a baby until she got it together… for no reason!”

"There are so many different stories. You can choose to tell them, or not, but they certainly have the right to exist" — Jenny Slate

In the States where the subject [of abortion] is so divided and so ferocious, there isn’t much of a conversation, there are just two trenches. We have forgotten our right to our vulnerability and the complexity of the experience. There are so many different stories. You can choose to tell them, or not, but they certainly have the right to exist and whatever is our specific experience, it’s ours, and no one can take that away. I think that in life that’s just discounted and, especially in film, it’s like is this even worth it? You don’t often see that story where it’s not a victory or a martyrdom. It’s not often in American film that a woman has an abortion. I think this examination of it is timely and important and that's why we did it."

Abortion may not be a typical theme for a film, particularly one touted as a 'romantic comedy'. Then again, Jenny Slate – star of the critically acclaimed Obvious Child, also known as the creator of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – is anything but a typical female lead. The debut feature film from Sundance sensation, Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child poignantly and perfectly envokes the spirit of modern feminism. So candid is Slate's portrayal of the empathic protagonist, Donna Stern, that an audience cannot help but be moved by her character's mix of strength and vulnerability. On the one hand, as an aspiring comic, she performs her decidedly scatological humour with fearless vivacity; on the other, she drinks wine out of a jam jar and hides in a cardboard box. Therein lies her appeal as a character. As her confidante, portrayed masterfully by Gaby Hoffmann, suggests: "What is so great about you, is that you are unapologetically yourself."

Obvious Child does not offer female perfection. It openly accepts the hardships of life and the vulnerability of the female condition, while skillfully managing to sidestep the realms of hyperbole. The journey of Donna as she decides to have an abortion and carries her decision through is neither praised nor contended; it is simply told with honesty, empathy and infectious wit. Indeed, the true beauty of this film is in its examination of such a controversial issue, while successfully remaining 'unapologetically itself'.

Obvious Child is released on 29 August.

Text by Abigail Gurney-Read