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Thursday, June 5, 2014

OBVIOUS CHILD is the Unapologetically Funny and Sincere Abortion RomCom that You Never Knew You Always Wanted

Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy

Somewhere across town right now an amateur comedian is standing on a dimly lit stage in front of a nervous crowd, awkwardly yet unapologetically telling the story about the time his drug-addicted father came to a parent/teacher conference with his pants down and completely intoxicated. On the other side of town, a young comedienne is telling the audience about a particularly embarrassing pap smear visit at the doctor's office. Then there's Jenny Slate, who plays a fledgling comic who reveals to her captive spectators that she plans to have an abortion the next day in OBVIOUS CHILD.

Some of the best comedy comes from surprisingly dark, very genuine places that are no laughing matter. But the best comedians often translate those experiences into relatable and bizarrely entertaining performance pieces that weasel their way into our hearts and, hopefully, open our minds. That's what happens in OBVIOUS CHILD, a new film starring Slate, Gaby Hoffman and Jake Lacy that turns not only the romantic comedy on its head but brings the controversial topic of abortion to a place it's rarely seen in cinema.

Sure, we've had our share of pro-choice funny women like Sex and the City's Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon) go to the clinic with the intention to terminate her pregnancy, and Alison Scott from Knocked Up (Katherine Heigl) wrestle with the notion to have an abortion after a one-night stand. But, with the few exceptions like Ellen Page's Juno, we seldom see them actually go through with exercising their options to choose. Societal pressure to fulfill the responsibility to bear children often rears its inevitable head and infects their thoughts. Which is one of the things that is so great about OBVIOUS CHILD; it sees this pressure and raises its middle finger at it.

Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, the film follows Donna (Slate) as she desperately tries to feel her way through life after a series of unfortunate events triggered by a devastating quarter-life crisis. Her boyfriend dumps her in a graffitied public bathroom after confessing he's cheating on her with her best friend (which is really like two blows in one). The vintage bookstore she works at is closing down, which means there goes her means for rent. And then she faces the toughest decision she has to make as an adult: having an abortion. That and tell the guy who knocked her up (Lacy), someone she's tried unsuccessfully to dismiss as a flimsy one-night stand, that she's pregnant with his child and aborting it. Like many uncomfortable events in comedian's lives, Donna opts to tell him as an anonymous spectator in the middle of a nicely swollen audience during one of her finer comedy sets. 

Jenny Slate

So yeah, Donna, whose foray into adulthood has already been fraught by her own resistance, is not having the best of times when we meet her. But, with the support of her loyal friend and roommate Nellie (Hoffman), who has a great "free our c*nts from legislature" rant, Donna makes the decision for herself--boldly, heartbreakingly and, yes, hilariously. 

What's interesting about OBVIOUS CHILD is that at its core it deals with more than the topic of abortion and female politics; it tackles adult coming-of-age themes with actual nuance and honesty, something that has been missing from more recent films. Slate is borderline hysterical as the twenty-something comic just trying to find her way in the minefield of life. As someone who by nature is mousy, obnoxious and comfortably self-deprecating, Donna falls face down several times but continues to self-medicate with dark humor. Slate, who plays a woman who pushes the topic of parenthood on a her husband on House of Lies, is wonderfully adorable to watch here, even when she is grasping for a sense of freedom and maturity--with no idea how to achieve either one.   

Gaby Hoffman and Slate

OBVIOUS CHILD doesn't bear a heavy, preachy statement on pro-choice, which would actually work to its detriment. Rather, it captures a small, vulnerable, quirky saga that serves as a mere catalyst for discussion on the topic. But at its core, the film, even at its most spontaneous (like during the two-person dance party/sexual foreplay scene with Donna and Max), is careful to provide the audience with just as much Brooklyn hipster charm as its far more subtle political commentary. It takes us through the sometimes humiliating world of hopelessly peculiar comics, and shares a tender story about a woman who went from being a fool in love, to a fool faced with a love she least expected at a moment in her life she could have never predicted.

Robespierre, who adapted the film from her 2009 short of the same name (also starring Slate), infuses the story with heartfelt moments and candor in even the most minimalist scenes. Punctuated by Slate's amiable performance, OBVIOUS CHILD is a winner if only in its effort to bark at tradition and tell a engaging story that just so happens to get people talking about a more serious subject. It doesn't overtly try to be anything more than what it is, which makes it that much more cool to watch.

Rating: B+ (***1/2 out of *****)

OBVIOUS CHILD is in select theaters Friday. Watch the trailer:


Anonymous said...

I've heard so many positive things about this movie, and your review has me more excited! A24 seems to always push out great films. Awesome review!

Yolanda6 said...

This looks really good!

Colin Biggs said...

Nice take on the film. As close as Juno and Knocked Up got to the actual act of getting the procedure done, they never really ran with it. Brave filmmaking.

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