Obvious Child

| June 24, 2014

Thanks to Gofobo.com and Alamo Drafthouse, I was able to catch an advanced screening of Gillian Robespierre’s debut film.  Serving as both writer and director, Robespierre’s first film is a heartfelt and daring comedy about a stand-up comedienne’s (Jenny Slate; House of Lies) unplanned pregnancy and subsequent decision to get an abortion.

Tonally, the film is a lot like one of my more recent television obsessions: HBO’s Girls, starring Lena Dunham, who also created the series and does a lion share of the writing and directing.  Obvious Child has a very similar feel.  Like Girls, this film champions a vulgarity of language and imagery, and does it in a way that is hilarious by juxtaposing these elements with a genuine sweetness and wonder.  Jenny Slate’s character is fearless in her discussion of taboo and raunchy topics, but she does it in a childlike way, helping the audience move past any discomfort and simply enjoy the story.

I’ve been a fan of Slate’s work since she debuted on Saturday Night Live.  Her tenure there was short lived despite her obvious talent, but I’ve enjoyed seeing her pop up in various shows since, including Girls, Parks and Recreation, House of Lies, and Bob’s Burgers.  In this film, she does a great job portraying the chaotic time in her character’s life, and how she’s suddenly forced to be an adult because of her accidental pregnancy.  It’s a complicated performance, full of Woody Allen like quips, and soul crushing sadness.  The character’s relationship with Max (Jake Lacy) is fun as she tries to decide what to tell him and when, and allowing her to play with dramatic irony to make little comedic winks to the audience.

The humor is a believable coping mechanism for Donna, and it’s fun to see how her stand-up routine changes over the course of the film.  She has a presence on stage that’s very conversational, and feels more improvised than any stand-up you’d see on TV.  She mostly just talks about what’s going on her life and uses her linguistic skills to make it all sound like jokes.  It works well, and feels believable to her character.  Another treat is seeing her friend Joey (Game Liedman) do bits of a more conventional and polished stand-up routine talking about how it’s unfair that he can’t acknowledge that Charles Manson is really attractive, and how offensive it is that he’s not Manson’s type.  It plays into the themes of humorously commenting on the taboo really well.

Another interesting connection with Girls is that in that show there’s a recurring theme of randomly running into everyone you know despite living in a huge city.  After their one night stand, Max tracks Donna down at the bookstore she works at, which isn’t so coincidental, but then later he turns up at her mother’s apartment because the mother is a former professor of Max.  The ideas of fate and destiny aren’t bogged down, and it feels realistic that these two keep happening to run into each other.

Definitely my favorite thing about Obvious Child is that unlike previous similar films like Knocked Up, and Juno, this film does not shy away from the discussion of abortion.  The movie is about a woman’s right to choose, and as the unknowing father becomes a bigger part of her life, she struggles with including him in that decision, but the choice is made early on to abort the pregnancy and the film unashamedly delivers a story about sticking with that choice.  It’s really powerful and poignant, and is one of the reasons this is one of my favorite films of the year.

I don’t know when this is going to get a limited or wide release, but if you get the change to see the movie, I highly recommend it.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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