The Sundance hit “Obvious Child” arrives in theatres with a reputation. In its film festival run it got labeled “the abortion rom com.” While that shorthand description is technically accurate, it’s also reductive, ignoring the film’s well-crafted and hilarious coming-of-age story about accepting responsibility, to concentrate on the more sensational aspect of the story.
Jenny Slate plays Donna, a twentysomething comic with an infectious laugh who works at New York’s Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bookstore to pay the bills. She’s funny, charming and a bit of a loose canon who uses her life as the basis of her comedy. One night after a show her boyfriend (Paul Briganti), who’s been having an affair and is tired of providing material for her act, brutally dumps her, leaving her devastated and vulnerable.
She drinks wine, engages in “a little light stalking,” and tries to work out her pain on stage. A couple of weeks later, still smarting from the split, and after one—or three—drinks too many she has rebound sex with Max (Jake Lacy), a straight laced business school student she meets at the comedy club.
Their tryst leads to pregnancy—”I remember seeing a condom but don’t know,” she recalls through a hangover haze, “like, exactly what it did.”—and Donna’s decision to terminate the baby. She has no doubts she’s doing the right thing but she is unsure whether she should tell Max.
The debut feature of writer-director Gillian Robespierre rides the line between feminist comedy—without taking an overt pro-choice or pro-life position—and full-blown rom com. The female characters are well defined without an ounce of cliché but at the same time the movie embraces the clichés of the romantic comedy genre while simultaneously subverting them. Harry and Sally, for instance, may have celebrated Valentine’s Day, but not at a Planned Parenthood office.
None of this would work unless the film was genuinely funny, which it is. The cast is uniformly excellent. They all feel genuine but the secret weapon is star Jenny Slate.
Slate does the heavy lifting in “Obvious Child,” appearing in every scene and carrying the emotional weight of the story, while still providing the lion’s share of laughs. She could have been the indie manic pixie dream girl—she does cute things like scream when surprised and then scream again because she surprised herself with the first yell—but her portrayal of Donna is much more raw than that. She’s complicated, like real people are, working through confidence and life issues. Best of all, in a summer packed with two-hour plus movies, she does it in a tightly packed 83 minutes!