By Gina Mingione
*Even though Obvious Child has been out since June, I like to be considerate about spoilers. I remember when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out and I heard the story of a guy who took a megaphone through Barnes and Noble at the midnight release and yelled, “DUMBLEDORE DIES ON PAGE 107!” I thought that was the meanest, cruelest, most disappointing thing I had ever heard (besides Taco Bell’s discontinuation of the Choco Taco).
I saw Obvious Child with Stephanie, one of my closest friends. She’s one of the best writers I know. She’s somebody that understands the cosmic joke, as Pete Holmes talks about on his podcast, You Made it Weird. Stephanie gets that life is often sad and confusing and pointless but also beautiful and meaningful and preordained—this paradox is what makes it funny.
When I’m hanging out with Stephanie, weird stuff happens. Usually, it’s small. We will be talking about the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, for example, and then see the word ‘HAROLD’ illuminated on a sign somewhere. We always seem to run into someone we had just talked about moments before, usually someone we went to college with. They will be standing on a street corner. I never run into these people when I’m alone. It’s like we are these forces and I can feel the gears of the universe in motion when we are together. Or maybe it’s just gas. I’m not sure.
Anyway, our conversations usually lead back to one thing: pretending to be the people we want to become, in the hope that one day we may actually become those people.
I am going to pretend to be more like Donna (minus having unprotected, anonymous sex). As we walked to the theatre, I mentioned to Stephanie that I had been toying with the idea of trying stand up comedy, unaware that the main character of the movie we were about to see was a standup comedian. In the opening scene alone, Donna completely killed it on stage. She was self deprecating and vulnerable and honest. We wanted to have a beer with Donna and talk about our vaginas with Donna and maybe even ride a carousel with Donna. I left the theatre feeling like we had just watched something deeply funny and important. I felt happy and grateful that Obvious Child existed.
What I liked was that it wasn’t trying to sell or teach me anything. I don’t think it was trying to be anything at all. It was a movie about people I already knew. Obvious Child is not a movie about abortion. For me, abortion did not define the movie or Donna as a character. Abortion is simply a choice she made and it is not a pivotal one.
It comforted me to see people with real faces and frumpy sweaters on a movie screen performing at open mics, trying to make a creative life happen and struggling. Donna is trying to realize her full potential and she’s kind of fucking up and that’s okay. I want to pretend to have Donna’s perseverance and also her willingness to show pain. When her boyfriend dumps her for her best friend, she leaves him voicemails that reveal just how shitty she feels. She isn’t too proud. She wants him to know.
Donna is unabashedly herself at all times and she isn’t going to act as though she doesn’t think farts are funny, just to make you more comfortable.
There was one particular aspect of the film that I feel has become a bit of a cliché, something that I couldn’t personally identify with—this idea of having cool and interesting parents. Since when does everyone have quirky puppeteer fathers and spunky professor mothers? This is certainly not my experience and not the experience of my friends. My parents still use AOL.
The dialogue, however, particularly between Donna and her mother, was sharp yet understated. It was the seemingly insignificant moments, like when Donna is visiting her mother at her mother’s apartment and her mother says, “We have to talk about all your mail, I’m still getting your student loan crap,” that compensated for their eccentricities.
While we all have been confronted with countless movies and shows about artistic New Yorkers, the fact that this movie is set in Brooklyn didn’t feel hackneyed. New York wasn’t being exploited as a kind of character. The shots of Williamsburg in winter were subtle and unassuming. The cold weather adds something, too. We don’t see any of the characters lounging in bikinis but rather, shivering on street corners in parkas.
Obvious Child also taps into my girlish fantasies—namely, encountering a man as selfless and angelic as Max, Donna’s love interest. Do people like Max exist? Is he an unrealistic expectation? Probably. But when they had a dance party in his apartment to Paul Simon’s “Obvious Child,” my heart lost its shit. I was sold. Max contributes to the wild dream that, even after ditching a man the morning after without even giving him your number, he will manage to find you at your job and ask you to lunch because he needs to see you.
Which brings me to something else. After Donna bails on Max the morning after, it’s natural to think she’s crazy. It’s clear he’s all goodness with a creamy center. Donna knows this and it scares the shit out of her. Donna’s character illustrates the small parts of us that believe we are undeserving of such kindness. Obvious Child addresses that weird, trapped feeling when you realize a person cares about you. There’s a part of you that wants to escape. It’s a lesson in allowing yourself to be loved.
After the movie was over, Stephanie and I sat in Union Square and watched people play soccer on the cement. It seemed the players made their own boundaries and rules. They were pretending.
Watch the trailer for Obvious Child: