Written by Steven Panzarella(@ProCreateSteve)
The Short- Obvious Child is about a woman who gets an abortion but thanks to an incredible directorial debut from Gillian Robespierre and a wonderful “star is born” performance from Jenny Slate, the abortion takes back seat to the story of an aspiring stand up comic who is having one hell of a month. Slate’s performance is beautifully tragic and hilarious and it’s Slate and director/writer Robespierre that make Obvious Child one of the first great Indies of 2014.
Obvious Child is the story of Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a 20-something brooklynite who spends her days working at a book store and her nights as a stand-up comic. After a particularly personal set Stern’s boyfriend break up with her in the clubs bathroom and admits that he has been in a relationship with one of her best friends. Stern’s reaction is not shocking, she spends most of it drinking, grieving, visiting her divorced parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper) and spending time with her best friend Nellie (Gaby Hoffman). She also does the one thing that makes her happy, stand-up comedy, and in a first show following the break-up she is an absolute mess talking about wanting to “Murder Suicide them” and spending most of the time as a drunken mess. On the rebound Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy), after an awkward if not hysterical one night stand Donna’s bad month takes a turn for the worse when she finds out she is indeed pregnant. Doing a movie about a women who is settled on getting an abortion in the political climate that is 2014 is dangerous business and I’m sure it would matter under other circumstances but Gillian Robespierre takes Obvious Child through Donna’s life with a gleeful wit and loving care that takes our attention off the abortion and on to Donna Stern. Robespierre’s direction is fantastic and her script is filled with dirty jokes and superb side characters that make up Donna’s crazy world. It’s a carefree script, allowing Slate to flesh out Donna as a person in the middle of a total breakdown, and Slate’s performance makes you feel for Donna on each and every level but it’s also impossible to not laugh at the brutally honest joker and heartfelt character that Jenny Slate embodies.
Jenny Slate might be most famous for a gaff on her first episode of SNL where she dropped an F-bomb but since her short lived time on SNL she has turned in a nice list of guest spots on TV shows and more famously before SNL was the voice of Marcel The Shell with Shoes On. This is her first starring role and she is THE STAR of Obvious Child. In Jenny Slate Donna finds her humor and an emotional capacity to at one moment make you laugh and at the very next moment feel for the character. Slate shows a range in her performance and thanks to Robespierre and her wonderful script Donna is a fully formed character by the halfway mark of Obvious Child. A move that allows you to enjoy Slate’s performance and connect with the character, a lesser performance could have made it more difficult for the film to go in-between drama and comedy so fluently.
Slate is not the only notable member of Obvious Child; Jake Lacy who plays Max has a sharp talent for keeping up with Donna who has an knack for dark potty humor and the naiveté of a shy man that is not just there to sleep with the films main character. Along with Lacy, Gaby Hoffman (Veronica Mars, Girls) plays Donna’s best friend Nellie, the calming influence in her crazy life and Hoffman convinces as the one person who unconditionally sticks by Donna’s side throughout the film. Hoffman and Slate have such a high level of chemistry that even the films darker jokes seem like a natural conversation, at one point Nellie tells Donna before her stand up set “I know you are going to kill it”, Donna quickly quips “No that happens tomorrow”, a hilarious abortion joke that because of Slate’s performance landed with pure laughs in the theater. Also helping in the supporting cast are Richard Kind and Patty Draper as Donna’s estranged parents, Kind only appears in a handful of scenes as Donna’s wacky father and Draper as her more straight laced mother. Both provide quality scenes, especially Draper later in the film as Donna reaches her most vulnerable point her mother is there as a shoulder to cry on. One of the film’s most memorable scenes is one between Donna and a friend played by David Cross in his only 2 scenes in the film. Cross as usual game for anything in the movies most outrageous scene that includes the Arrested Development star donning a women’s pink shirt to “impress” Donna.
Obvious Child may not be the most natural choice being a dark comedy about abortion but thanks to a hilarious and heartfelt script and an outstanding performance from Jenny Slate it might be one of the first real memorable Indie flicks of 2014. Consider it a must see especially as Slate is garnering awards season buzz around her performance.