Almost every interview with Jenny Slate mentions two things. 1) She has an incredibly distinctive voice that has this charming scratchy squeak quality that is beloved as the stop-motion Marcel the Shell – see the adorable-as-heck video here. 2) Television comedy show SNL notroriously didn’t renew her contract after one season – Slate found herself in a Youtube mire after using the f-word during her first episode. And now, from this point on, every profile on the actress-comedian will add this third fact: she is the star of the first abortion romantic comedy, Obvious Child.
Obvious Child is released today in Ireland and tells the story of Donna Stern, a struggling comedian in her mid-to-late twenties who is dumped by her boyfriend and loses her bookshop job within a pretty crappy twenty-four hours. One diastrous on-stage performance later and she runs into handsome stranger Max. The two go home together, dance to Paul Simon, and have sex. A few weeks later Donna finds out she’s pregnant and decides to get an abortion. There is no Juno-esque backtracking. No shaming. Just a girl making a decision about what she needs. Amidst all this personal drama she meets Max again. We caught a preview during last month’s Beyond the Bechdel Test season in the IFI where the audience of mostly women laughed, and some even cried (we cried).
Slate has been with the film ever since it was a 2010 short that got every feminist blog excited. Now that Obvious Child is critically lauded with the obligatory nice-words-from-Sundance how does she feel about being the poster girl for the cheeriest pro-choice movie going? “If that’s a real thing then I feel proud.” She’s forthright about telling the story of Donna and the 40 million women worldwide who choose to have an abortion every year. “I have always said I would rather be brave than be boring,” she says down the phone from London where she was promoting the movie last week.
Slate is philosophical about the significance of the movie. “I think it’s an important story for many reasons but one of the things I love about it is it’s not about will Donna or won’t Donna have the abortion. It’s really about her growing as a person and her right to not just decide what’s good for her body but for a complex experience within that choice.”
Slate has been performing stand-up and acting since a teen, she was even in a play at the Edinburgh festival when she was 19. With a recurring role on Parks and Recreation and as one of the main stars in FX’s dramedy series Married, will she ever leave stand up behind? “I’ve always done both and I’ll always continue to do both because they’re really different types of expression. I don’t think I could be satisfied if I didn’t perform live for other people. I really do stand up for the human connection and I truly enjoy it.”
In the film she’s playing a stand-up comedian. Is it life imitating art in anyway? “I’m a lot different than Donna but I definitely relate to her struggle as a woman just trying to get her shit together in her late twenties. I relate to what it feels like to be dumped or lose a job and suddenly lose your confidence and make more of a mess before you can make things right.” Donna’s stand-up is unflinchingly honest, and hilarious. In the opening scene she talks about vaginal discharge. Truly a first for the romantic comedy genre.
“I think in general there is a real hunger for authentic voices. I think it’s even a genderless appetite at this point. I don’t know, I have many theories, but I think there have been a lot of projects in film and tv that are just a bit unreal and don’t reflect a world we all live in and have to deal with every day. We deserve to see pictures and humans from our world.”
When asked about the effect of the movie in a country like Ireland where the present abortion law has been described by the Guardian as “one of the most absurd and morally compromising pieces of state hypocrisy in Europe” and the UN as lacking “legal and procedural clarity”, Slate freely admits she’s not familiar enough with the situation to comment beyond saying she is “glad that the movie will be out”.
Before saying goodbye we asked for career tips for all the aspiring Jenny Slates. “It’s so hard to give advice! I’m still figuring it out,” she laughs before assuming a more thoughtful tone. ”I guess I would say’ Be courageous but not egotistical. Be kind but not a pushover. But more than anything speak in your own voice’.”
Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun