Directed by: Gillian Robespierre.
Written by: Gillian Robespierrek story by Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm based on the short film written by Anna Bean and Karen Maine and Gillian Robespierre.
Starring: Jenny Slate (Donna Stern), Jake Lacy (Max), Gaby Hoffmann (Nellie), Gabe Liedman (Joey), David Cross (Sam), Richard Kind (Jacob Stern), Polly Draper (Nancy Stern), Paul Briganti (Ryan), Cindy Cheung (Dr. Bernard), Stephen Singer (Gene).
Abortion is still one of the most taboo subjects in American movies. It is such a taboo subject that the fact that when Juno (2006) got pregnant, it was rather daring for the movie to have the teenager protagonist to at least consider abortion – and go to the clinic. That was certainly more courageous than Knocked Up (2007), which cleverly played with the notion that no one ever talks about abortion in popular culture, and ended up beating around the bush, and never saying the word once in the film. Because of this past of films not dealing with the subject in anyway whatsoever, it makes Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child pleasantly surprising, and sometimes shocking. The film could be described by someone trying to pitch the film as “Knocked Up, set in Brooklyn with hipsters, from the women’s point of view, where there’s no doubt she’ll get an abortion”. Pretty much from the moment Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) finds out she’s pregnant, she knows she’s going to get an abortion. She’s in her late 20s, is about to lose her one paying job, has a stand-up comedy career that may doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and her boyfriend has just broken up with her. She has a drunken would be one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy) – and then finds out she’s pregnant. Max seems genuinely interested in a relationship with Donna however – and she with him – but she cannot quite bring herself to tell him that she’s pregnant.
This probably doesn’t make Obvious Child sound like a romantic comedy – but it is, and one of the best in the last few years. It is a breakthrough film for Slate, who had a brief stint on Saturday Night Live before leaving, who delivers an easy, natural, funny, subtle performance in the lead role. Much of the time, I find movies about self-involved Brooklyn hipsters insufferable – films like the ironically tilted The Comedy or Drinking Buddies have been loved by some, but mostly annoyed me. However, because Slate’s Donna is so likable, she won me over even if she spends much of her time navel gazing. The movie itself is much like Donna – it’s more honest about its characters than most movies of its kind. It knows that Donna is basically a 28 year old teenager – someone who is so irresponsible that being a mother really isn’t an option for her. She can barely take care of herself let alone a baby. For his part, Lacy’s Max seems a little bit more mature – he has an actual job (although he has difficulty describing it) – and at least knows what he wants in life – which is more than what Donna can say. He’s much like Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up – a little too perfect, a little too understanding of the main character that refuses to grow up. But it’s refreshing to see the man stuck in that role in a film rather than a woman – which is how Hollywood basically operates.
Obvious Child has the appearance of a romantic comedy, and an indie-hipster comedy, and it works as both of them. It is funny pretty much from beginning to end – except, strangely in the few stand-up comedy scenes Slate performs (the first one, which is her actual act plays like material Sarah Silverman or Amy Schumer would have rejected years ago, the second one, which isn’t supposed to be funny, isn’t, and the third one, which I guess is supposed to take her act in a separate, more honest, self-revealing Louis C.K. type direction, works in terms of the story way more than it works as actual stand-up. But those were really the only moments in Obvious Child that didn’t work for me. The film is a breakthrough for Slate, who I think could be a wonderful romantic comedy heroine for a new generation (and hopefully won’t just get to play the quirky best friend in a more mainstream movie) as well as co-writer and director Gillian Robespierre. Hollywood is shameful in its lack of female directors needs writer-directors as smart and funny as Robespierre to make films. Obvious Child is a subtle, funny movie – but it’s also quite daring from beginning to end. It puts most bigger comedies to shame.