'Obvious Child' Star Jenny Slate, Director Talk Committing to Abortion Comedy

 

[WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead for Obvious Child]

In the upcoming indie comedy Obvious Child, the film's main character doesn't shy away from her decision to have an abortion when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant.

Similarly, writer/director/executive producer Gillian Robespierre said there was no pressure from outside forces for her to waver in the film's commitment to that storyline.

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"Whoever that outside force was when we were creating this movie -- they didn't exist," Robespierre told The Hollywood Reporter after a screening of Obvious Child in New York Sunday afternoon. "Every [executive producer] that came onboard, every investor, every grant that we applied for … read the script and knew the story. This is going to be boring, but we didn't get many doors closed on us."

Robespierre added that distributor A24, which acquired the film after it premiered at this year's Sundance, has been a particularly good partner.

"It was a great marriage," Robespierre said of the relationship with A24. "We were at Sundance, and I went in with very low expectations, and I came out with a new family. That sounds so cheesy, but it felt like we got married. And it was a setup because I didn't know them and they didn't know me. Along the way we fell in love, and now we're having a baby called Obvious Child."

Before Obvious Child was even conceived as a feature film, it was a 20-minute short that Robespierre made with star Jenny Slate in 2009. The director said she didn't intend to turn her short film into a longer movie, but after the short got some attention online and from film festivals, Robespierre was encouraged "to continue to tell the story in a bigger way."

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"We wanted to give this story a shot on a bigger screen in a bigger way that more people could see," she said.

During the four- to five-year journey of turning Obvious Child into a feature, Robespierre said a lot was added to what had been a straightforward story about an unplanned pregnancy.

In the feature-length movie, Slate's Donna Stern reveals her pregnancy and plan to have an abortion in her stand-up act, a scene that the actress told THR she struggled with, getting the tone right.

"It's a serious thing that she's saying, but it's no different than the start of the movie when she's also opening up about her life. And it's something that she learns, that she likes to be onstage because she likes to express her most authentic self in that way. I just wanted it to still be funny," Slate explained. "I didn't want it to be heavy, and even though it's not exactly stand-up and she'll probably never do a set like that ever again, I didn't want to hide her impulse to make people laugh. I think there's a delicate balance there because you don't want to be rough with the subject matter -- you don't want to be thoughtless -- but you also don't want to treat the subject matter too gingerly, otherwise you won't treat it like a real thing. And that balance was hard to hit. But I think we did."

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Slate also said that she related to the "passive to active journey" that Donna goes through in the film.

"At the start of [the movie], she's onstage, and even though she's being loud and very open, she's very passive. She's sort of just pressing the gas all the way down to the floor … and not really understanding how she can use her words and that she has any choice at all. She's just kind of blasting through," Slate noted. "I understand that, and I learned that too in my late 20s, that there are different ways that you can use the way that you express yourself and it doesn't always have to be the biggest. Sometimes you can use those moments of openness for asking for help rather than just showboating."

The movie features open, raw dialogue throughout. Robespierre said she didn't feel the need to tone that down either.

"We just wanted Donna to be a very funny person. And no matter what's going on in her life, big or small, she will use humor. She'll see it through a comedic lens," Robespierre said.

Obvious Child opens in New York and L.A. on Friday before expanding across the U.S. the following week.

Watch the trailer below.

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