Stand-up comics (the ones that are past most of the public speaking anxiety, at least) often refer to their stage time as therapy – a space where they can work out their lives through the ha-ha pretense that anything they say about themselves is part of the “bit.” So when Brooklyn comedian Donna (Jenny Slate) loses her job at a failing bookstore and finds out her boyfriend has been having an affair and is moving in with the other woman, she naturally takes it all onto the stage with her for a drunken set in her local back-bar comedy room (the only place she ever performs).
“I was recently…dumped up with,” is her opener for the worst set of all time. But it’s not all bad; she recovers with her best friend and roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) and by the end of the night has bumped into Max (Jake Lacy) – a genuinely kind and sort of dorky guy that she hits it off with. But Donna is not having a lucky year, and after an awkward, all-elbows one-night-stand with Max she finds out she’s pregnant. So she schedules an abortion and spends the next week anxiously waiting for the appointment and thinking over her life and failed connection with Max.
Writer-director Gillian Robespierre doesn’t make the abortion at the center of “Obvious Child” about what’s right (politically or morally), just what’s right for her character, Donna. Pro-life advocates are going to have a problem with the film’s casual treatment of the hot button issue, but Robespierre boldly pushes past the now-typical unexpected-pregnancy-conundrum mastered in “Juno” and focuses instead on a story about hitting rock bottom.
This is a clear launching vehicle for Jenny Slate, who is the only annoying part of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” as Mona-Lisa, but here is much funnier and even dramatically successful. Her clumsy delivery of the film’s many abrupt one-liners is paramount to even the actual writing. You get a sense that some of the jokes had to come from rattling off a bunch of absurd phrases until one of them, hilariously, stuck.
Slate starts with her life in shambles and then gets pregnant; she’s a knocked up “Frances Ha.” “Obvious Child,” with its second-rate romance and endearingly crude humor, was never going to be as dramatically satisfying as that Noah Baumbach picture, but it goes beyond being a better comedy than a drama – it would actually make a better TV show than a movie. With the achievements tilting towards character and performance over story or production, “Obvious Child” screams “TV hit.” It’s a great cross-section between the authentic twentysomething experience of “Girls” and the irreverence and stand-up segments of “Louie.” By the end, I’d had enough of this particular story, but I still wanted more of these awkward, inappropriate characters.
June 6, 2014
1 hr. 23 min.
Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, David Cross, Richard Kind, Polly Draper