Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Donna is an aspiring comedienne who enthusiastically infuses her personal life into her stand-up performances, so after losing her beloved daytime job and being dumped in the same week, Donna’s act has taken a turn to the dark side. Depressed by the uncertainty of her future, Donna sets out to drown her sorrows. But when a drunken, random hook-up leads to an unexpected pregnancy, she now must quickly decide whether or not to remain pregnant while trying to find the right way to inform the boy scout, would-be father about her sudden predicament.
Please welcome to the stage Jenny Slate. A spitfire personality with an adorably raspy voice, Slate’s star-making portrayal of stand-up hopeful Donna Stern is the piece de resistance of Obvious Child. A former Saturday Night Live alumnus (2009-10), Slate’s SNL career was short-lived after she infamously dropped an f-bomb during one of her on-air skits. Since then, Slate has spent the last few years bouncing from one comedy series to another including Parks and Recreation and Married. As Obvious Child’s lead protagonist, Donna’s believable depth and real life complexities and neuroses are brought to life on screen by Slate’s intrepid portrayal. Rarely do you find a rom-com female lead as emotionally complex or three-dimensional as that found in Donna, a bitter twenty-something who seemingly isn’t ready to be a mother. Slate’s delivery of Donna’s foul mouthed, unapologetically candid comedic style is a mixed bag of shake-your-head hilarity and awkward vulgarity, masking a frightened young woman unable to cope with many of life’s adult challenges.
Originally a 2009 short film, Obvious Child is the creation of writer/director Gillian Robespierre. After getting the opportunity to expand her story into a full-length feature, Robespierre re-teamed with writing partner Karen Maine along with first-time screenwriter Elisabeth Holm to pen this rebellious rom-com that, under Robespierre’s capable direction, deftly tackles a hot button topic with an amusing irreverence. Some will undoubtedly find the film’s matter-of-fact portrayal of the contentious topic of abortion to be a bit off-putting, but those with more moderate views will likely find Robespierre’s uncensored approach to such quarrelsome themes to be surprisingly forthright. Unfortunately, hampered slightly by a handful of rom-com conventions, not all of Robespierre’s narrative choices worked entirely, and one in particular involving Max (Jake Lacy), Donna’s hook-up, and Donna’s mother Nancy (Polly Draper) just came across as excessively implausible.
Overall, however, as a pragmatic examination of one of life’s most difficult, personal decisions, Robespierre’s debut film is a competent, satisfactory creation that exhibits quick-witted dialogue and a smattering of truly comical moments. The film’s ultimate contribution to the 2014 movie landscape is as a forum to highlight the comedic gifts of Jenny Slate, whose fearless, intrepid performance more than makes up for any of the story’s shortcomings. As I’ve harped on many times here, the only way female directors are going to get more opportunities to create lasting works of cinema is if we movie fans support worthy female-led projects. Obvious Child is a project worthy of our support.