author – activist – faculty – mom
I love a good story on the big or small screen, but they are so hard to find these days. As I get older, I get pickier. Those are 21, 43, or 95 minutes of my life I won’t get back. Who would have guessed that this week, I’d have two amazing independent films to gush about?
The first is Sleep Dealer. Fifteen years ago, when Alex Rivera came up with the premise for this award-winning science fiction film, the idea of telecommuting was futuristic. Since then, we have become accustomed to the idea that the web and telecommunications can connect workers to customers and headquarters anywhere in the world. The film originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, offering a near future dystopic vision that simply takes current technology to the next level. In Mexican factories, workers are literally plugged into machines with wires that make them appear to be marionettes. Through the technology, their motions are mirrored by robots in the US who pick fruit, build skyscrapers, and even nanny children.
The film got great reviews that included The New York Times and WIRED, plus a distribution deal. But the distributor went under in 2011. Since then, Rivera and his team have been working with Sundance Artist Services to re-release the film on iTunes on June 17th for sale in both standard and high definition of this year. According to REMEZCLA, a cutting edge Latino culture blog, Sleep Dealer offers “an inspirational narrative about second chances in which trailblazers like the Sundance Artist Services continue to fight for the future of independent film.”
The film Obvious Child opens in San Francisco this week. In this new romantic comedy, a drunken one-night-stand between a socially mismatched pair of strangers leads to an unplanned pregnancy. In some ways, it’s similar to the 2007 rom com Knocked Up, except this time she doesn’t keep the baby.
A recent NPR piece describes this feature debut by director Gillian Robespierre as follows: “Donna’s in her late 20s. She’s a comedian in Brooklyn. … It’s going pretty well for her at the start of the film. [But then] she ends up getting dumped and fired and then pregnant all in time for Valentine’s Day.” The romantic comedy stars Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy.
As a feminist who remembers the supposedly pro-life movement murdering doctors and firebombing clinics, I was surprised that this movie could be made with an unapologetic abortion in the storyline’s center, and a woman whose choice to have one goes unpunished.
But part of what makes the film work is the relationship between the protagonist and her body. Donna is a comedian who overshares about bodily functions from the film’s opening line. Toilet humor, fart humor, vagina humor, and HPV humor abound in the film. Although I don’t usually respond to toilet humor, I found myself laughing a lot at the gendered toilet humor. But that’s because the joke isn’t about the bodily functions, it’s about how far women go to pretend they don’t have them. Girls are given the message that bodily functions are for boys to joke about, but for girls to hide. For us they’re not simply supposed to be unfunny but downright shameful. Breaking that first set of taboos makes it possible for the film to break what has been a greater taboo up until now. And in the film, honesty trumps artifice. In joking about her body, Donna is lovable not for her ability to conform to what is supposed to make a woman attractive, but for how bold she is in being authentic, despite a lifetime of female conditioning that teaches us to hide the authentic body.
As I’ve said in a previous post, in many stories of unplanned pregnancy, from the film Knocked Up to the TV show “Smash,” the female characters decide to keep the baby in bizarre twists that are totally out of character. Those stories are built around the central lie that ambitious women in media and the performing arts will give up careers to build families with sketchy guys after casual sex. Critic Emily Nussbaum said that the motivations of Knocked Up’s female lead “made basically zero sense. She was just a completely inconsistent character …especially considering that she was this ambitious young Hollywood babe.”
But most depictions of women in the media make no sense and are based on falsehood. From the color of their hair to the airbrushing of their bodies to our supposed fascination with tugging on the elastic of our underwear, (who does that??)
For the first time in a rom com, we get to see a more authentic female body. And we get to learn what every cohabitating couple knows: that you can be sexually interested in someone whose body you see in many different states of mess and imperfections. So in a romantic comedy film where women stop pretending about our bodies, there’s finally room to stop pretending that women don’t have abortions.