Obvious Child, 2014
Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre
Starring Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, David Cross, Richard Kind and Polly Draper
Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern gets dumped, fired and pregnant just in time for the worst/best St. Valentine’s Day of her life.
“I won’t say it for little baby ears over there, but it rhymes with smish-schmortion. You should get a smish-schmortion at the smish-schmortion clinic”. In many circles, both in the public eye and in some parts of Hollywood, abortion is like Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter: it who cannot be named. And it is a stigma that Obvious Child, the new dramedy from director Gillian Robspierre, was always going to be stuck with. But forget all that, and simply enjoy what is one of the most enjoyable, and funny, films of the year.
We follow Donna (Jenny Slate), a stand-up comic in Brooklyn who uses her comedy to forget all humdrum nature of her life up to now: her parents are divorced, the bookshop where she works is facing closure, and she has just found out her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her best friend. A drunken show later, she meets and sleeps with local student Max (Jake Lacy), where a condom was “seen but just not sure exactly what it did”, Donna discovers she is pregnant. Her immediate thought: smish-schmortion clinic.
Having had great success across the festival circuit over the last year, Obvious Child comes with big expectations, and in a summer with a severe lack of truly great comedies, it’s a pleasure to announce that it exceeds all the great praise already bestowed upon it.
While it does have an air of a Judd Apatow movie, in the sense that it combines some genuine human moments with some laugh-out-loud humour, Obvious Child doesn’t hold back, on anything. Its humour is a superb mixture of the obscene (fart in the face) and the truthful (comedy store routines), and it’s in that rawness that the film truly triumphs in telling an authentic story that is both heart-warming and heart-crushing. It certainly doesn’t do anything spectacular in terms of direction or filmmaking, but it hardly needs to (though there are some lovely shots of New York for good measure), and director Robespierre simply just lets the camera record and let us enjoy the delights up on the screen.
Then of course, there’s the little “bun-in-the-oven.” A lot of course will (and has) been made about the subject matter, the aforementioned abortion, and will certainly raise many questions about pro-choice, anti-choice or even whether it is still too much of a taboo subject to be talked about on film. But what Robespierre and her writers do so well is that they almost make the abortion strand almost secondary to the characters, as if its not even there. Not shying away from it by any means, but to present it in a way that we at least have an understanding of Donna’s motivations.
The crown jewel of the film is Slate, who gives one of the years best performances. Fresh from her work in Parks and Recreation and her short stint on Saturday Night Live a few year prior, Slate is a revelation here. On the surface, Donna is an insufferable character, full of promise and potential, but instead decides is obnoxious, lethargic and prone to procrastination. But such is Slate’s talent and her warmth, that you can’t help but love her and her apathetic ways. The cast too feed off of Slate very well, with special mention to the always superb Richard Kind as her worrisome father and Gaby Hoffman (remember her?) as her long-standing roommate.
Hilarious, heart-felt and genuine, Obvious Child could very well end the year with the “best comedy moniker” that so many have already placed upon it. It’s mix of drama, comedy and realistic characters is a joy from start to finish, not least thanks to the magnificent Jenny Slate. An absolute must-see.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★