Obvious Child has been labeled as “that abortion movie,” which is the equivalent of labeling Trainspotting as “that heroin movie.” Obvious Child is not a film about a controversial topic, it is a film about people dealing with issues and, well, being people.
Obvious Child is the feature film debut of writer-director Gillian Robespierre who, despite sharing the last name of an evil historical figure, has a gentle touch in dealing with tough and sensitive issues. Sometimes, Obvious Child feels so naturalistic that it resembles something that is not even a film at all. It tells the story of Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a Jewish comedian (I have to point this out, given that this movie is Cultural Judaism incarnate) going through a millennial crisis, which is a midlife crisis that somebody in their 20s might go through. Her stand-up is funny and honest, yet it isn’t getting her much work.
To top it all off, Donna’s boyfriend breaks up with her, after revealing that he has been cheating on her with one of her friends. What a dick. She has just about reached bottom, where her father (Richard Kind, a friendly father figure if I ever did see one) reminds her that sometimes the best creative energy comes from these low moments.
During one of her lower moments, has a one night stand with a stranger named Max (Jake Lacy). The two of them are opposites, to say the least. He is a pair of boat shoes to Donna’s orange crocs. Protection is forgotten and a few pregnancy tests later, Donna discovers that she is pregnant. As quickly as the female characters of Juno and Knocked Up decided to keep their respective babies, Donna decides to get an abortion. Much to my relief, Obvious Child is not a film carrying a big political message along with it. It does explore moral or ethical implications, it is simply about living with making a big decision, which is why it way more than just “that abortion movie.”
Obvious Child is first and foremost a comedy that luckily never uses this issue as a crutch. In fact, it never goes for the easy joke at all. The best comedy comes out of truthfulness, and like Donna, who strives to speak honestly on stage, this film seeks to make us laugh through honest moments. That honesty might come in the form of humiliation, like a poorly timed pee fart, which is amongst the funniest of the fart kingdom. Donna is a comedian and the film contains long stretches of her standup. They are not necessarily to underline a theme like in Seinfeld and Louie. Rather, they show character growth and maturity. In this regard, these moments remind me a lot of the musical numbers in Inside Llewyn Davis.
Perhaps now is the best time to mention Jenny Slate, who kills it as Donna Stern. I wouldn’t be surprised if Slate is playing a bizarro version of herself here, but that doesn’t make her performance any less powerful. Of course she is funny, but she shows the kind of dramatic chops that you would not at all expect from half of Publizity. I am not saying that I doubted Jenny Slate’s talent. What I am saying is that I didn’t expect to watch this film and feel my heart break along with her’s as she stood outside her ex-boyfriend’s house in a desperate act that is both relatable and illogical. Good comedians are funny. Great comedians know the right moment to turn the funny off.
While the writing is fantastic, I think Obvious Child might have been another middling Brooklyn dramedy without Slate’s help. Nonetheless, Obvious Child stands out from the rest of the pack. Many of its scenes run long, but that is because they capture the natural rhythm of conversation. The film is short, but it feels like it ends where it is supposed to end; it never overstays its welcome. A romantic comedy about real world consequences, Obvious Child feels like a fairytale and a nightmare all at once, which I think is the highest possible compliment that I could give it.
Brain Farts From The Edge
- Undateable recently made me realize how much I hate movies and TV shows that are set in lifeless bars. If it were real life, the people that mattered most would be drowned out by a million other noises. Obvious Child makes the home-base bar actually look fun.
- If you want to understand why I like Jenny Slate so much, go watch Kroll Show right now.
- This film deserves way more credit for great writing than I initially realized. There are so many points where it could fall into the indie traps of Brooklyn and the MPDG, but it never does.
- I would love to see a talk show hosted by Richard Kind called “Kind Thoughts.”
- Rock on, A24. They’re having about as good of a year as Phil Lord and Chris Miller are having.
- Obvious Child: Come for the Birthright jokes, stay for the pee farts.