Expanding her own 2009 short film of the same name, debut feature director Gillian Robespierre eschews hipster posturing to achieve something true and affecting in this Williamsburg-set relationship comedy.
Following a particularly painful break up, aspiring New York stand-up comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) has a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy), a business student. That should be that, until sore boobs and a late period indicate that Donna is pregnant. For Donna, who barely manages to make ends meet with her bookstore day job, any course of action other than an abortion is unthinkable, but she does resolve to tell Max about what has happened and what she has decided to do – somehow, at some point.
Make no mistake, this is Jenny Slate’s show. Although she may be familiar from supporting and guest roles in television series such as Bored To Deathand Parks And Recreation, her turn here is a signature piece – “Jenny Slate” and “Obvious Child” will be mentioned in the same breath for decades to come. It’s what would be called a star-making turn – if it weren’t in an arch, frank comedy about abortion and 21st century relationship mores. Slate’s Donna is bold, brave, vulnerable, self-deprecating and searingly honest – adjectives that could be applied to the film she inhabits.
Perhaps the smartest choice Robespierre has made here is to avoid making Donna’s decision to have an abortion the center of the drama. There’s no wrestling with the moral implications – if any – of her choice; rather, the film lets us hang out with her, her friends and family – including Richard Kind and Polly Draper as her divorced puppeteer father and business maven mother, respectively – and get a handle on who she is and what her life is like. For all that the film is aimless at times and in no hurry to get anywhere, it never feels lazy or forced – although the brief appearance by David Cross as a lecherous fellow comic does feel a touch out of place. That aside, Robespierre imbues her story with a naturalism and honesty that buoys it along nicely. Her deftness even rescues potentially problematic characters, like the almost too good to be true Max, who comes across as an actual character and not the flat, Dudley Do-Right her could so easily have been reduced to.
Obvious Child almost drowned in plaudits when it did the festival rounds and it’s easy to see why. Smart, funny, warm, wise and honest, it’s steeped in the singularity of voice that marks the best indie fare.
Originally published in X-Press Magazine.