Genre: Comedy, Romance
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, David Cross
Abortion is a theme that one wouldn’t necessarily think of as a suitable central premise for a romantic comedy. It’s a testament to the skill of writer/director Gillian Robespierre, that her debut feature is a lovingly crafted and mature tale that respects its characters and never once devolves into trite preachy sentimentality that it could easily have become.
The story follows Jenny Slate’s twenty something comedienne Donna Stern, who, following a one night stand with Jake Lacy’s business student Max, finds herself pregnant, forcing Donna to face the realities of independent womanhood for the first time in her life.
To describe Obvious Child as an “abortion movie with jokes” would be doing the film a disservice and in fact would be somewhat inadequate. Falling into that confectionary of Manhattan based “Lena Dunham, Girls-esque” milieu of young women navigating the wilderness of being twenty something in New York, what underlies the film’s narrative is this idea of venturing into early adulthood for the first time and dealing with all the fears and insecurities that go along with it, albeit all laced with a snarky wit and charming humour.
While the theme of abortion is a key part of Donna’s journey, it is not her main concern. Indeed, Donna’s choice to have an abortion is dealt with early on in a matter of fact kind of way. It is a decision that she makes on her own and Robespierre doesn’t judge her for it, but instead respects it. Yes, Donna makes bad choices throughout the film, mainly with her own romantic misadventures and her struggles to inform Max about her pregnancy, but therein lays the honesty. Donna is a flawed person, and Robespierre mines the humour to bring out the truth from Donna’s situation.
It isn’t necessarily hysterical when Donna uses material from her own life in her stand up act, such as her sexual exploits with her boyfriend or a hearty description of her underwear, but it’s used to highlight Donna’s insecurities and fears as she deals with these personal issues and ever growing complications in her own life. It’s all a process of becoming. But don’t let all this existential stuff fool you. There are plenty of laughs to be had, mainly from Donna’s awkward interactions, and Robespierre and her leading lady pull it off with aplomb.
Even when you think you know where the film is heading, Robespierre sideswipes you, never following standard Hollywood conventions, which could’ve easily contorted this film into something far more contrived than what it ultimately ends up being.
While a lot of this is down to the excellent writing and direction, a lot of it has to do with the excellent central turn by Jenny Slate. The former SNL star may hit every comedic beat perfectly, but also brings a nuance to her performance in the quieter moments of the film, particularly in her interactions with Jake Lacy’s wonderfully charming Max.
A cadre of wonderful supporting players including the great Richard Kind as Donna’s puppet maestro father and Gaby Hoffman as the reliable best friend, while Jake Lacy provides a great counterpoint as Max ably supports Slate.
Laced with a great sense of humour that never undermines its honesty, Robespierre’s film handles its subject matter with a slickness and an assured maturity, making Obvious Child a film that is incredibly hard to dislike. Featuring a standout central performance from its leading lady, Obvious Child should be the breakout comedy of the year.