Obvious Child (2014)
Written by Anna Bean, Karen Maine, & Gillian Robespierre
Directed by Gillian Robespierre
Donna Stern is an amateur stand-up comedian in New York City whose life, while not the greatest of successes, is comfortable and stable. Then her boyfriend breaks up with her admitting he was cheating with one of her friends. The bookstore that provides her primary source of income announces it is closing. And then she meets Max, a young businessman who happens to stop by the bar/club where she performs stand up. After a night of drunken fun, she parts ways with Max and begins to move on with her life. The bombshell that hits Donna is that she is pregnant. Right away she knows she has to have an abortion, her life is in no way prepared for a child. However, Max keeps walking into her life, and Donna feels like she has to break this news to him.
Nothing about Obvious Child ends up being what you would expect it to be. It is a romantic comedy, and it does have plenty of ‘meet cute’ moments. However, it is also a movie about a woman who is getting an abortion due to an unplanned pregnancy. I can’t imagine any major Hollywood studio would have the guts to allow that plot element in a wide release picture. The plot also refuses to follow traditional three-act structures and lets itself meander through its story, concerned with characters more than hitting plot points.
The anchor of the film is Jenny Slate as Donna. Slate is a comedian who I first became aware of via the VH1 I Love The… series. She was one of many talking head commentators, and for whatever reason, she stuck out from the crowd. Later, she would be picked up by Saturday Night Live only to leave at the end of the season, which makes sense as her personal sensibilities just don’t really match up with the broader comedy of SNL. Instead, Slate pursued an acting career in more offbeat television series and films which have suited her brilliantly.
The territory in Obvious Child is the same sort of themes and characters you might find in Lena Dunham’s Girls, but I would argue that Robespierre overwrites less than Dunham and allows her cast to find their way through the story. The drama generated by the concept of Obvious Child feels like natural human reaction and never devolves into maudlin melodrama. The element of abortion in what is essentially a romantic comedy could be handled in an utterly embarrassing way, yet Robespierre is very deft with balancing the weight of the idea but not letting the movie become a drag.
My biggest complaint about the film is that the characters do seem to fall back on expected sorts of romantic comedy tropes now and then. The big night between Donna and Max plays out unrealistically, or maybe I just don’t have much experience in Brooklyn millennial courtships. I would have liked to see a little more ugliness and grit added to the affair just to raise the level of realism. The film also comes dangerously close to having trope-y parents, while I love Richard Kind and he is a perfect fit to play Slate’s father, he is almost on the edge of being a too cute romantic comedy movie parent. Obvious Child continues the A24 tradition of presenting familiar genres uncommonly.