As a wise man, and a tedious load of students on their Gap Year application forms, once said, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’. Via Kickstarter, filmmaker Gillian Robespierre has done just that. Judging modern mainstream romantic comedies with their one-note women and contrived resolutions to be unfit for purpose, she’s made Obvious Child – a very funny, often filthy, genuinely romantic comedy.
There’s nothing pixie-like, or dream girl-ish about Obvious Child’s lead Donna (Saturday Night Live and Parks & Recreation’s Jenny Slate), she’s more raucous imp. A Brooklyn stand-up and book clerk specialising in crude, confessional comedy, we first meet Donna on stage and mid-flow on the subject of vaginal cream cheese, farting and “getting banged out” by her boyfriend. This isn’t a Katherine Heigl movie, in other words.
When said boyfriend dumps her, Donna collapses into a duvet-based stupor that leads to a drunken hook-up with nice stranger Max (Jake Lacy). Single, soon-to-be jobless, and in a late-20s directionless spin, Donna finds herself pregnant. What she does next – booking an abortion – has dominated Obvious Child’s media story and earned it the ‘abortion comedy’ tag.
While Donna’s termination is undeniably central to the plot, its dominance in the press surrounding the film tells us more about our reaction to abortion, and Hollywood’s selective blindness to it, than Obvious Child actually has to say on the subject.
For Donna, her family and friends, her abortion is a logical step, free of hand-wringing or soul-searching. As she tells her audience, she’s in no way ready to be a mother, something borne out by the rest of the film. Its unembarrassed portrayal of terminating a pregnancy is unusual for its honesty and refreshing lack of ethical judgement. It isn’t a choice that defines Donna’s life, or her relationships. What makes Obvious Child noteworthy is that it treats an event that happens every day like an everyday event.
Jenny Slate is a strong lead as Donna, just as good alone on stage as she is surrounded by friends Nellie, Joey, and Sam (Gabby Hoffman and Slate’s comedy partner, Gabe Liedman, and David Cross), whose affection for Donna sells her to the audience during the film’s more abrasive opening moments. Jake Lacy’s Max is endearing if hard-to-grasp, while Richard Kind and Polly Draper are both great as Donna’s likeable, briefly glimpsed (the whole film only runs to 83 minutes) parents.
It’s an accomplished debut feature that comfortably earns writer-director Gillian Robespierre a seat on the bus next to Lena Dunham, and cements Jenny Slate’s reputation as a very capable lead. What both do next will be worth keeping an eye out for.
Obvious Child is out now in UK cinemas
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