Obvious Child


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Obvious Child. "It's really interesting to have a breakthrough performance by Jenny Slate"
"This is really a film that rests on Slate’s charm, which fortunately she delivers in spades." | Photo: Chris Teague

‘So, I’m having your abortion’ is the kind of approach 27 year-old Donna Stern considers in front of a bathroom mirror when psyching herself up to the act of confessing her pregnancy to her one-night stand, Max. As portrayed in an irresistible and energetic performance by actor Jenny Slate (who earned her spurs on Saturday Night Live and shows like Parks And Recreation), Donna is a young and struggling Brooklyn comedian whose hook for her small-but-loyal audiences is to be as forthright and honest on stage as she is in life. Thus on any of her performance nights fans can catch her waxing lyrical on topics such as the weird contents that smear her underwear over the course of an average day, or the sounds of her butthole. Yet the lewdness is always sprinkled with a dose of her charming, scatterbrained sweetness.

Director Gillian Robespierre’s comedy introduces us to Donna during one of those periods when all the shit hits the fan at once, and in time for Valentine’s Day too. In about the space of 24 hours, Donna is dumped by her partner, who is actually cheating on her with one of her close friends. Her landlord announces he is selling the building where she lives, meaning the bookstore on the ground floor where she works is also for the chop. Her comedy sets deteriorate into epic rants, and after one drunken performance, Donna falls into bed with a ‘so Christian’ looking young programmer named Max. Max doesn't seem to be her type, but biology cares not for such things and Donna ends up pregnant. Will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Will she tell Max, who as it turns out seems quite smitten with her and might be more of a match for her than she first realised? And what about her parents? Whilst waiting for her date with Planned Parenthood, Donna certainly has an obstacle course to run, armed only with sarcasm, tangent humour and her skill at throwing weird shapes.

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This is really a film that rests on Slate’s charm, which fortunately she delivers in spades. Slate plays Donna as the kind of person who always seems to be vibrating, never still, her body always swirling around and her face always on the verge of twitching into a gurn or laugh. How much of herself she has carried over into her performance as Donna is anyone's guess, but it is hard not be charmed by such effervescence. The emotional journey that Donna goes on is perhaps not particularly surprising (though the director/writer deserves props for not going down the more conservative route of giving us a character who feels unable to even contemplate abortion), but Slate is just the kind of actress you need to sell laughs and pathos without tipping into mawkishness. She also has good comic chemistry with actor Jake Lacy, whose character of Max seems buttoned up and dishwater-dull at first with his all-American chin and dad-friendly shirts, but we are given time to see how he and Donna actually spark well off each other.

Obvious Child has plenty of lighter moments, what with all the fart gags (including an admittedly very funny fart to the face) and other various goofy faux pas largely coming from Donna. But it has some welcome steel hidden in the velvet glove that helps elevate it into something that is as thoughtful and mature as it is funny.

Reviewed on: 27 Apr 2014
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Obvious Child packshot
A struggling comedian loses her boyfriend, her home and her job, then accidentally gets pregnant from a one night stand.
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Director: Gillian Robespierre

Writer: Gillian Robespierre, Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine, Elisabeth Holm, Anna Bean, Gillian Robespierre

Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, David Cross, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, Paul Briganti, Cindy Cheung, Stephen Singer, Emily Tremaine, Crystal Lonneberg, Ernest Mingione, Julie Zimmer

Year: 2014

Runtime: 83 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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