I saw a clip of Jenny Slate's Donna waiting outside her ex's doorstep and I was intrigued enough to check out this movie because of it. The scene pretty much perfectly encapsulates how we grieve and incorporate bargaining into the process - she's sniffing and shivering in the morning frost, clutching a coffee and making nonsensical bets so that she can convince herself to stay a little longer and catch a glimpse of him. What Slate does with her laugh in this movie is actually fascinating; she channels it as an almost sub-conscious defense mechanism, descending into prolonged giggles every time her emotions surface and begin to overwhelm her. Here she alternates it between sobs and pathetic justifications for trying to bump into her ex, and it's so beautifully genuine because we've all done this, whether it was for smaller or bigger decisions. It's not rational, but that's what makes it real, and it often reveals our true feelings.
The other reactions of Donna post-breakup are more disappointing because we have also seen them many times, but only in movies. The typical montage of drunken, angry phone calls, jump cuts to trim the fat but keep the one-liners, alternating between being cordial and being that psycho ex. She predictably bombs at her next show, moaning about how her world has ended, and then quickly jumps into another montage and into bed with Max from the bar. That instant spark, their loud, electric connection (they play drums as foreplay) then quickly dissipates as she sneaks out the next morning without a word. It was at this moment where I was beginning to feel embarrassed for her rather than sympathetic.
Slate plays Donna as a new age, foul-mouthed, liberated woman. It's 2014, of course, and there is no longer anyone chastising her for not being a lady - and if there was, she'd flip them off. But she also uses the same tactic when her parents try to coax a little ambition out of her; she's on the wrong side of twenty five, and just got fired from a bookstore. At times Donna feels like a mumblecore caricature long past her expiration date, with a dash of millennial (when she is dumped he stares at his phone, right before she returns serve with two dozen missed calls). She's the type of person to spit a one-liner in the face of a difficult situation to hasten her quick getaway. She replies to almost everything, even serious offers of assistance, with the same brand of irony and snarky cynicism - even her inner monologue has an attitude. I was half expecting the reveal of her pregnancy to be accompanied by the opening bars of Beethoven's 5th. There's even a convenient placing of dog poop to let her off the hook from answering a hard question from Max. And yet she is humbled at times, and Slate is able to lead her persona away from that irreverent, 'unapologetically herself' young adult and into meaningful territory. Donna may seem like the person to storm into a clinic and point to 'abortion' as if it was on the menu of a cheap restaurant, but she resists this approach because of her inherent empathy. In this particular situation, she doesn't place much importance on the procedure, but the movie also respects others who do.
Robespierre is fighting the tide against movies where abortion is never a path to joy. Either it is an unavoidable consequence borne out of difficult circumstances until the last moment where a sprig of inspiration leads to her keeping the baby, or she goes through the procedure and is left a mere shell. Come to think of it, I can't remember a movie where a woman has an abortion but still gets through to the happy ending without any further hitches. The act itself is nestled into the final act, not as an afterthought, but merely something that has to be done. There's no playing around with the will she/won't she moralising that other portrayals usually get bogged down in. Given the often dirtied reputation that abortion is saddled with, the movie does well to untangle the issue from layers of stigmatisation. It has been dubbed an 'abortion comedy' - two words making an unlikely combination that will immediately turn some viewers away. But more than just abortion it is about growing up. Donna grows by not pushing away a new stranger in her life for once. Max is practically perfect, waltzing up with roses, accompanying her to the clinic and giving her more than one chance, and it seems that this good a person shouldn't really exist for Donna. But I choose not to be cynical, and believe that it isn't an issue of whether or not she deserves it, but whether she recognises it.