I was one of the last to see the popular comedy, Knocked Up, but I giggled my fair share. I teared up over Quinceneara. I Netflixed my way to Waitress, the most mouth-watering of the bunch. I had to leave Bella behind at the trailer, 'cause I got a tummy-ache. But who can forget Miranda's little package that started the whole trend on Sex and the City?
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!
I'm perplexed by the newest baby-happy trend in movies with female leads. A woman becomes unexpectedly, unhappily pregnant. It's under "the worst possible circumstances."
The beautiful woman... and I mean, she's STUNNING... makes the decision to keep her baby and have the perkiest, most upbeat pregnancy I've ever seen in my life. I can't recall a single friend who PLANNED to have a baby, who ever had as great a gestation period as these heroines.
Here's some of the things you can look forward to in your unplanned Hollywood pregnancy:
Billionaire mentor leaves you all his money on his deathbed (Waitress)
Your first high school lover ends up being the most perfect love you will ever know (Juno)
You really ARE a virgin... the sperm only seeped through your jeans (Quinceañera)
Parents who rejected you take you back into their loving arms at the last moment because they realized they were all wrong (Quinceañera)
Closed adoption, another last minute decision, works out for the best for everybody (Juno)
Raising a child-like boyfriend is a darling substitute for an infant (Juno, Knocked Up)
International soccer star and his loving relatives become your surrogate family
Guys quit their jobs and give up their best buddy's approval just to be with you (Knocked Up, Bella)
You see the light and cancel your abortion seconds before the procedure begins (Sex and the City, Juno)
Keeping the baby gets you your boyfriend back and makes you realize you really do want to get married to him, after rejecting him for years (Sex and the City)
Abortion is fine for someone else, but not for someone heroic and plucky like YOU! (ALL)
But the overall effect was disquieting. The movies are farces, masquerading as romantic comedies. In a couple cases, it alarmed me that they couldn't utter the word "abortion" aloud, no matter how many naked boobs, swear words, or bong jokes were included.
I asked my friend and culture critic, Laura Miller, what she thought about these abortion-free flicks:
LM: They bothered me, too. Fictional characters are barely allowed to consider abortion, but there are some technical reasons why.
You don't make a character pregnant just to have it go away with a minimum of fuss; pregnancy and a baby provide the kind of conflict that drives stories. So if a story-tellers make a character pregnant to begin with, it's usually because they want it to play out.
They might try to milk a little extra drama out of her deciding whether or not to terminate, but that's about it. Some of this is probably a moral thing, but a good portion has to do with the necessities of generating plot.
As for a movie where someone does decide to have an abortion— I think it's hard to ever present this as an affirmative experience.
Sure, people have them, get on with their lives, and are grateful for the choice. But it's not like anyone's ever happy that they had to have an abortion, only that they had the option. Like a root canal, it's a hard experience to build a movie around, especially now that fewer people remember what it was like when abortions were illegal.
In the case of my first abortion, the aftermath was the beginning of my realization that I was capable and desirous of having a child. I could feel the possibility, the confidence, for the first time. I didn't see that coming. I ended a relationship that I hadn't had the guts to say "No" to before. It was like I grew a spine— and my maternal instincts— out of the abortion decision.
I had a supportive, enlightening, and even sentimental experience at the abortion clinic, which is either an anomaly, or has simply never been shown on screen. By sheer coincidence, two acquaintances of mine were in the same recovery room; we were in each other's arms as soon as we could sit up! Physically, it was painless, and my doctors were awesome.
The second time, I already had a kid and was clear I didn't want to go through pregnancy again. Instead of my early naïveté, I bore the realism of self-supporting motherhood. My relationship with my partner became a lot closer after that, and I didn't necessarily expect it, because his biological clock was the one ticking at that point.
These aren't experiences I ever thought of fashioning a story or a script about... they're complicated. I can't even say I understand them all yet. Motherhood's the hardest thing I've ever done. I've never loved someone so much, I've never been so hurt, so thrilled, so blown away, or felt so stupid, or proud. To have control over my reproductive life so far has made all the difference. If I hadn't had birth control, if I hadn't been able to have an abortion... well, I would've likely met the fate of the earlier generation of women in my family tree, who had babies every year until they dropped dead at an unseemly young age. There's a movie for ya!
LM: I agree that in real life being able to terminate can be a liberating, positive experience, but I'm not sure it would play that way. That's the difference between drama and life, I think, which people are prone to forget.
In reality, you have a whole idea of the life that you expect to be leading over the next "X" years, and you're attached to it. That imagined life can be as real to you as your actual past. But there's no way to render that imagined life in a movie. Drama is all about conflict and change, not about things going on the way they were before.
SB: I think my critical eye is twitching at these smushmortion-flicks because there's little else to balance their p.o.v. It's a dilemma inspired by the poverty of representation. There are hardly any popular films about women's lives, so the ones that do appear are going to get raked over the coals by the last feminists standing.
When one of these Romantic Cutie Trends gets going, I get queasy. It's like Pretty Woman all over again. Plucky Prostitute is now Plucky Preggers. Bite Me!
My favorite "abortion" movie of all time so far, is one that makes no pretense that it's a farce.
Saved! is about a girl at a Christian private school who tries unsuccessfully to get her boyfriend to give up his homosexuality. She fails in her attempt, but ends up pregnant anyway. Everyone in the movie loses their fragile grip with the hypocrisy that surrounds them. It's totally ludicrous and yet truer than any of the "Smushies" that came out last year.
Here's one of my favorite scenes: