Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Obvious Child; Not-So-Obvious Parents

Seeing the new indie, Obvious Child, on the eve of Father’s Day has sent my mind in some interesting directions. On Father’s Day, of course, the media were full of dad stories. NPR chronicled heroic dads.  Parade magazine interviewed delightfully goofy dads. At the gym, my treadmill TV offered movies about sad dads (Bruce Willis, as a New York cop unable to afford his daughter’s dream wedding) as well as police procedurals about bad dads (a rapist whose goal is to impregnate his victims—yuck!).   

All of which sent me back to Obvious Child, whose central figure is Donna Stern, a screwed-up but rather adorable stand-up comedienne (Jenny Slate). Her career isn’t taking off, and her day job has just evaporated. Then a bad break-up leads to a boozy but joyous one-night-stand, and bingo! she’s on track for a bundle from heaven. Concluding that she’s not good mom material, she elects to have an abortion. And decides—in her own quixotic fashion—to let the father-to-be know what she’s planning for Valentine’s Day.

Surprise! Max turns out to be a stand-up kind of guy. Sure, he’s WASPy and doesn’t travel in the same circles as Donna’s hipster friends, but he’s also both smart and understanding. And his chance remark about hoping someday to become a grandpa clues us in to the fact that this fellow might turn out to be a keeper. Donna’s choice regarding her pregnancy made me think about  Juno and Knocked Up, two other recent comedies in which unlikely couples face the consequences of their bedroom shenanigans. Those films are both similar to and different from this one, in ways I won’t spell out here. But I’m slightly puzzled that the situation keeps arising, both on movie screens and (I suspect) in real life as well.

Whatever happened to the Pill? I grew up in an era when the new availability of oral contraceptives was a very big deal indeed. The birth-control pill was first marketed in the U.S. circa 1960, but state laws and medical anxieties at first limited its spread. It wasn’t until 1967, two years after a Supreme Court decision overrode bans in many states, that Time magazine featured this new medical advance on its cover. One expert representing Planned Parenthood estimated for Time that  by 1967 more than five million American women considered the Pill their contraceptive of choice. Most of those women were married, because until 1972 states were still free to keep oral contraceptives out of the hands of females who happened to be single.  

Time devoted the bulk of its cover story to medical issues, debates within the Catholic Church, and population control in underdeveloped nations. Only gradually did the article arrive at the question of how the Pill was transforming American society, solemnly noting that “a girl who is promiscuous on the Pill would have been promiscuous without it.” What Time did not think to stress was the importance of reliable contraception in an era when abortion was strictly illegal.

Sixties Hollywood of course steered clear of the whole issue. An industry whose longtime production code had its basis in Roman Catholic strictures was not about to make contraception a plot point. Today, as social mores have loosened, we encounter lots of on-screen sex, but almost no acknowledgment of its possible consequences. That’s why I appreciate Juno, and Knocked Up, and Obvious Child. However pollyanna-ish they might be in suggesting the possibility of happy endings, at least they recognize that when you get horizontal with a person of the opposite gender, something might possibly develop.

I’ve promised my good friends in Ridgecrest, California that I’d spread the word about their summer movie festival. So here goes. The Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert is presenting “Summer of Movie Magic” on Wednesday nights through August 27. Disney favorites will alternate with silent film classics, and each evening’s festivities will kick off at 7 p.m. with selected cartoons. Hot dogs and other goodies are available. It all happens at the Historic USO Building, 230 W. Ridgecrest Blvd, Ridgecrest, CA For more information, phone 760-375-8456. Be there or be square! 


  1. I'm glad that those movies can at least touch on the consequences with a sense of humor, as opposed to those cautionary tales from back in the day that hammered their supposed point home with a heavy hand - even while reveling in the lurid details.

  2. Good point, Mr. Craig. I agree completely.