Just about every year, brilliant movies are utterly ignored by the Oscars. The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Breathless, King Kong, Casino Royale, Touch of Evil, Caddyshack, Mean Streets, The Big Lebowski, Blackfish — the Academy has a long history of overlooking comedies, action movies, horror flicks, hard-boiled genre pics, artsy foreign films, and documentaries that aren’t about World War II. Before the ceremony, we’ll be taking a closer look at films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.
The film: The feature-length debut for director Gillian Robespierre, based on her 2009 short film of the same name, Obvious Child follows struggling twentysomething comedian Donna (Jenny Slate) living in the flannel-and-irony-drenched Williamsburg. After getting “dumped up with” and having a bona fide breakdown, Donna drunkenly hooks up with the clean-shaven, so-not-her-type Max (Jake Lacy). Fast forward a few weeks, and she finds out—whoops—she’s pregnant. She decides to have an abortion—and follows through with her decision. And (spoiler!), instead of it ruining her life, everything turns out kind of all right.
Why it wasn’t nominated: C’est la awards-season vie. The Oscars have always viewed comedies as low-brow second-class citizens. (Case in point: that Bridesmaids snub, or the fact that only two comedies have won Best Picture in the past 30 years.) And with no Best Actress in a Comedy category at this show, Jenny Slate didn’t really have a viable shot at an acting award.
That said: The film was quickly branded as an “abortion comedy,” which is a real shame—especially if that label cost it awards love. To call Obvious Child political, even provocative, is selling it short. Yes, Donna’s decision is a crucial part of the story—but it’s really the engine that propels a romantic comedy. The film, like its protagonist, is bristly and sarcastic on the outside, but warm and vulnerable at its core.
Despite all that, Obvious Child was known as “the abortion comedy” ever since its premiere at Sundance. And while many may consider Hollywood progressive when it comes to the A-word, Obvious Child is one of the few films in which the protagonist actually carries through with an abortion without it upending her life. In several films where women face unplanned pregnancies, the word “abortion” itself isn’t even uttered—as in Knocked Up, which cops out by referring only to the thing that “rhymes with shmashmortion.”
There are plenty of Oscar voters who aren’t afraid to go there—but it’s likely that plenty more still flinch at the whole issue. Remember when NBC banned Obvious Child ads from airing on the network, at least those that contained the word “abortion”? There certainly seems to be a double standard here, especially given Oscar voters are the same folks who gave six nominations to American Sniper—which is arguably just as divisive as Obvious Child. But I digress…
Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: While the “abortion comedy” thing may have hurt its prospects in awards season, that hook—and its status as a film that helped to change the conversation around women’s reproductive rights—will give Obvious Child a fair amount of staying power past 2015. This film makes it okay for its heroine to make this decision and still be a heroine. And underneath all that, it’s also a pretty hilarious romantic comedy—which is no small feat in a world where rom-coms seem increasingly endangered.
Plus, Obvious Child will likely mark the turning point for Slate, an indie comedy darling whose eyes are starting to get used to the mainstream spotlight. We’ll likely look back on Obvious Child as her “big break,” one she took on gracefully by tackling a still-taboo subject with vulnerability and — yes — humor. (The Broadcast Film Critics Association was clearly ahead of the game.) Perhaps Slate put it best in her Critics’ Choice acceptance speech, that Obvious Child is proof that “activism and creative expression can go together.”