Writer-director Gillian Robespierre has heard a lot of interpretations of the title of her romantic-comedy-featuring-an-abortion, Obvious Child. "You can sort of look it any way you want to and a lot of people do," Robespierre told The Wire earlier this week. "Like, Donna’s obviously a child, which I don’t agree with, or, obviously she’s not going to have a child. I think that’s true, obviously she’s not ready to do that."
There's an easy connection to the title and the content of the movie, though. The movie—and Robespierre's short on which the film is based—shares its title with a Paul Simon song off his 1990 album The Rhythm of the Saints. A song which is used in the film during a pivotal moment. "We chose that song in 2009 when writing the short and that became the title of the short," Robespierre explained. "It was just a song that I listened to a lot in the car when I was little. The car was a special time for me because I would listen to music and kind of look out the window and I would tell little stories. And I felt like that was my first experience with filmmaking. Setting up shots in my head to the grass whipping by and slow motion and thinking of a boy and a girl kissing. I was little boy crazy. And the music was the soundtrack."
In the movie, the song is featured in a crucial scene wherein our protagonist, stand-up comedian Donna (Jenny Slate), and her love interest, the straight-laced Max, dance around an apartment before the sexual encounter that will lead to the unplanned pregnancy that will set the rest of the movie's plot, in which Donna needs to tell Max she's having his abortion, in motion. Donna and Max's foreplay dance is silly and sexy and sweet—an ideal rom-com moment. "I feel like this was like the third song they put on, and it was like Donna’s choice and he’s sort of blown away by it," Robespierre said. And while Robespierre describes herself as "more of a rhythm person" than a "lyric person," Simon's song has a nostalgic edge to it. Nostalgia, in fact, is what brought Robespierre to the song in the first place.
Robespierre has been getting her share of deserved praise for a movie that is a warm, straightforward romantic comedy, which just happens to have an important political stance. Donna's abortion isn't treated blithely, but her decision isn't an agonizing or melodramatic one either. In fact, the movie makes a point of revealing that abortion is something a lot of women go through.
NOTE: Obvious Child plot spoilers ahead.
But despite the central emotional hurdle, it's obvious from the moment they share that wild dance that Donna and Max are going to end up together, and they do. At the end of the movie, post-abortion, they are curled up on a couch flipping through channels. Donna sarcastically dismisses the romantic comedies, and the two settle on Gone with the Wind, a purposeful choice on Robespierre's part. Watching the famously long movie is a commitment. "It’s like, well, we’re committing to a whole afternoon and maybe going into early evening or late evening. And that’s seriously scary and vulnerable, but if you're down to do this, I'm down to do this," Robespierre said. "We know for the next 10 hours these two characters are going to be taking care of each other."