ranters and ravers

Critics Declare ‘4 Months’ the Last Word in the Shmashmortion Debate

Courtesy of IFC, Universal, Fox Searchlight

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s harrowing abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days — which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes before being stiffed by the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film committee — is, of course, being hailed by critics everywhere upon its official Stateside opening this week. Interestingly, several critics are taking the opportunity not only to praise 4 Months, but to poke at its more-popular thematic counterparts, Knocked Up and the Oscar-nominated Juno. Manohla Dargis at the Times gripes about the hits a bit sotto voce, noting that 4 Months “offers a welcome alternative to the coy, trivializing attitude toward abortion now in vogue in American fiction films.” Trivializing shmashmortion? Surely you jest, Ms. Dargis!

The Post’s V.A. Musetto is a little bit more blunt in his appraisal. “Who needs Juno?” he asks, complaining that it and Knocked Up “sugarcoat” the topic of abortion. Even Christianity Today gets in on the act, with movie critic Peter Chattaway praising the film to the heavens, calling it an even more balanced treatment of the abortion debate than Vera Drake, and notes that 4 Months gives critics of Knocked Up and Juno “what they wanted: a woman who not only considers aborting her child, but goes ahead and does so.”

The most thoughtful of critical responses to 4 Months, though, is J. Hoberman’s must-read analysis in The Village Voice, which takes Knocked Up, Juno, and Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress vigorously to task:

te>Their female protagonists have no choice other than to bring their pregnancies to term. Obviously, these movies could not exist if their preg protags elected to have abortions. What’s more crucial is the fact that the Knockee, the Waitress, and even the hyper-articulate 15-year-old hipster improbably named Juno are unable to express why they feel obliged to give birth to unplanned and unwanted babies. They have no choice and they have no say. It is simply their fate.

If Knocked Up’s Alison were a devout (or even lapsed) Catholic in addition to being a glamorous newsreader, if Waitress’s guilt-ridden Jenna imagined that a child would improve her disastrous marriage, if little Juno were planning a welfare scam to fund her alt-rock band or simply wanted to gross out the neighbors, these narratives would still function, but now with the added aspect of free will … There can be no female agency in Knocked Up, Waitress, and Juno — not because they are comedies, but because, in each scenario, unwanted pregnancy is the joke played (by God?) on the female lead …

Knocked Up, which is basically a revenge fantasy, is at least cathartic in its humorously blatant misogyny. Waitress, written and directed by Adrienne Shelly (herself a martyr to male brutality), is only pathetic … Juno, which was written by a woman and has become something of a fetish (albeit mainly among male film critics), is positively creepy.

Friend Indeed Who Doesn’t Judge or Flinch [NYT]
Knocked Up and Knocked Down in Bucharest [NYP]
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [Christianity Today]
Gone Baby Gone [VV]

Related: David Edelstein’s review of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [NYM]

Critics Declare ‘4 Months’ the Last Word in the Shmashmortion Debate