Directed by Gillian Robespierre
Starring Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman
Creating a quick log line or plot synopsis for Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child is awkwardly hard to do. A film following a female stand-up comedian who gets pregnant and decides to have abortion sounds like a huge undertaking. With a great cast and clever script, the film is anything but a political bore. Jenny Slate may be the next big thing and Obvious Child may be this year's best comedy. It also is so honest about being a female that I am even happier to be a male at the end of the day.
Slate has already made a name for herself on many different fronts: a one-season stint on "Saturday Night Live" (where she famously dropped the f-word during her first skit), a recurring role as Mona Lisa on NBC's "Parks and Recreation", and as the voice behind the adorable YouTube hit "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On." If none of those ring a bell, then Obvious Child will definitely send her into a new sphere of fame. She tackles the material head on and creates a very original and memorable character we haven't really seen before. Slate plays as Donna Stern, a Jewish, female comedian who lives in Brooklyn and struggles with the joys of being a twentysomething in today's world. When her longtime boyfriend dumps her, she is left feeling hopeless and vulnerable. Her parents are a mixture of over-indulgence and over-negligence. Her closest friends are a liberal feminist (Gaby Hoffman) and a gay man (Gabe Liedman). When a meeting with a stranger named Max (Jake Lacy) leads to a late night rendezvous, Donna ends up pregnant. She decides pretty quickly that she is going to abort the baby and the film turns into a struggle for finding a place in society while also seeing the joys of what's right in front of you.
As Donna, Slate is supremely honest in every sense of the word. Donna's stand up routines generally play on the embarrassing details in everyone's lives, from holding in farts to childhood thoughts. The comedy works on a hilarious scale early on and, as the character goes on her emotional roller coaster, the audience becomes the victim through countless awkward stand up routines. Max and the other supporting characters are used by director Robespierre in the most appropriate way. The journey is all Donna's. While each character has their own idea for where the journey should go, Donna is a strong-minded person who knows what she needs to do, even when she doesn't do it, and is honest enough to eventually get around to admitting it.
Beyond the great performances, the script is seamless. There are countless quotable lines and hilarious gags that work so perfect. One specific moment involves a fart in the most appropriate non-Apatow way to approach farts. Slate is brilliant at comedy (as seen in her quick season on "SNL"), but she's even more brilliant taking the hilarious words written here and bringing an emotionally resonant honesty to how they are presented. It's raw in a way that still allows each line to be hilarious, but not just throwaway "funny" lines. It's been a while since an audience I've watched a movie with has laughed so steadily.
Obvious Child premiered this year at Sundance to a pretty great response. As with a lot of indies, the film has its flaws. There are moments when the story wobbles on the edge of where it's headed. It also feels like it ends a bit too abruptly. But, I can't praise Slate and her costars more for the way they tackle the material. Where movies like Juno approach the unplanned pregnancy topic in a lighthearted way, Obvious Child approaches the unplanned pregnancy topic by making it a possible roadblock and allowing its characters to be honest about how they feel. It's also refreshing that a movie dealing with a hugely political topic (abortion) chooses to skip right around the politicalness of it.
No matter what your personal beliefs are on that specific subject, Obvious Child is a hilarious and sad portrait of a struggling twentysomething. This movie isn't going to get the notice it deserves this year, but it's definitely worth seeking out.
Runtime: 83 minutes