Saturday, March 29, 2014

“Obvious Child”–Movie Review




This week at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films series, I saw “Obvious Child”, a romantic comedy written and directed by Gillian Robespierre.


When a young woman becomes pregnant following a one-night stand, she decides to have an abortion – but will this cause her to lose the man with whom she slept?


Donna (Jenny Slate) is really having it pretty tough right now.  As an aspiring comedienne, she must fight to get her few minutes onstage at the Brooklyn club where she performs.  Not only that, but she’s losing her day job as a clerk in a bookstore because the owner is being evicted by his landlord.  On top of all that, her boyfriend breaks up with her after her set one night.  In subsequent weeks, her life goes into a bit of a tailspin until she happens to meet Max (Jake Lacy) at the comedy club one night.  The two hit it off right away and Donna winds up going back to his place to spend the night. 

Some time thereafter, Donna’s worst suspicions are realized when she learns this tryst has resulted in her pregnancy.  Both unwilling and unable to take care of a child by herself, she ultimately decides to have an abortion, despite the fact that scrounging up the $500 to cover the cost will be something of a challenge, particularly given that she has no insurance (where’s Obamacare when you need it?).  Nevertheless, Donna is determined to go through with it.  One thing that bothers her is that Max is unaware that she is expecting.  Donna realizes that she has to inform Max of both her situation and resulting plans, but has great trepidation when it comes to actually carrying out this mission.

After a couple of meetings with Max – some by chance, others planned – Donna still cannot muster the courage to apprise him.  Although it’s clear that these two are quite fond of each other, Donna’s wariness seems to be forcing a distance between them; nevertheless, Max fights for his chance to be with her.  Eventually, Donna invites Max to see her perform at the comedy club.  Once on stage, she announces to the audience – and to Max – that not only is she pregnant but that she is currently scheduled to have an abortion the next day.  Upon discovering this, will Max try to discourage her from her plans or will he use this as an opportunity to dump her? 


Are you ready for a romantic comedy about abortion?  Well, ready or not, it’s here, it’s hilarious, deal with it!  For all of the hard edge the character of Donna is supposed to have as a stand-up comedian, she is played with great pathos by Slate.  Instead of using her humor as a shield, Donna uses it as a form of therapy – by publicly and humorously discussing deeply personal aspects of her life, she is in fact both medicating herself and entertaining her audience simultaneously.  Thanks to Slate’s performance, we see and feel this young woman as a multi-dimensional human being instead of a caricature – which would be an easy out, but one that is skillfully avoided in the screenplay by Robespierre. 

With an incredible cast that includes Richard Kind and David Cross, this is a human and heartfelt story told without guile, smarminess or cool aloofness (despite the fact that parts of the movie were shot in the infamous hipster haven, my ‘hood of Williamsburg Brooklyn).  As much as I enjoyed “Obvious Child” and believe this will be sure to propel its writer/director Robespierre to a larger audience, I don’t think that the movie is terribly well served by its title, which I found to be a little misleading and confusing.  The title is taken from a Paul Simon song that is used in the film, which the director said was a favorite from her childhood.

Following the screening there was an interview with writer/director Robespierre and some members of her cast, including Slate.  Robespierre said that the shoot was an extremely aggressive 18 days and that some of the scenes in the comedy club were shot overnight after the club had closed.  In taking “Obvious Child” around the film festival circuit throughout the country, she was pleasantly surprised at how accepting people were of a comedy about a woman who has an abortion.  She interpreted the relative absence of controversy showed society was in fact ready for a story such as this. 

Obvious Child (2014) on IMDb

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