Aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), the central character in Obvious Girl, Gillian Robespierre’s directorial debut working from her own script, would certainly agree that bad luck comes in threes. Within a very short period of time she has lost her boyfriend and her job, gaining only an unwanted pregnancy in return. It’s fair to say she’s not on a good run. Falling into the awkward comedy-drama category, Obvious Child lacks originality but manages to tackle controversial issues in a refreshing manner.
Even before everything went wrong for Donna, she was at something of an impasse. The relationship with her boyfriend Ryan (Paul Briganti) was hardly stellar given the caustic comments made in her own stand-up act, and her paid employment consisted of assisting in a small bookshop for five years. Sure, the stand-up seems to go down well but her regular haunt is a free comedy club, hardly the scene of entertainment immortality. With everything falling apart around her, clean-cut Max (Jake Lacy) offers an alternative until their reckless one-night stand leads to pregnancy and an abortion scheduled for Valentine’s Day. Who said romance was dead?
Donna is the heart of the film, a woman pathologically addicted to honesty. She puts her whole life up for all to see in her act. She’s also invigoratingly free of the demur behaviour that is usually expected of women, and capable of talking about tough subjects like abortion without descending into hysteria. Robespierre then adds to her firm dramatic foundations with a series of witty one-liners. Very little is laugh out loud funny, the notable exception a wonderful cameo from David Cross, but it’s constantly amusing.
The plot and production proves to be less invigorating. Contrived moments can’t be avoided. Donna even bumps into Max at her mother’s house where he, an ex-student of her mother, is conveniently returning an item borrowed from his former teacher. There’s also a tendency to fall back on the genre staples. Acoustic indie music keeps winding up in the background while tried and tested set-ups, even including a drunken voicemail message montage, keep occurring.
Just before Obvious Child gets altogether too obvious, Robespierre manages to redeem herself. A fantastic final stand-up performance; fiery, articulate and brave, and a keen focus on the minutiae of life rather than big, bold gestures saves the day. Obvious Child will not linger long in the memory but it’s a thoughtful slice of entertainment while it lasts.