Sundance 2014: Jenny Slate Shines in 'Obvious Child' Abortion Comedy
by Ethan Anderton
January 26, 2014
With the topic being so controversial, who would have thought that a romantic comedy with abortion at the center of the story would be so damn charming and irresistible. Obvious Child hails from Gillian Robespierre, turning her short film of the same name into a feature length film with "Saturday Night Live" veteran Jenny Slate playing the same role, a twentysomething who finds herself with an unexpected pregnancy after a one night stand with a kind, alluring stranger (Jake Lacy of "The Office"). The familiar meet-cute that would normally drive a generic romantic comedy is made engaging with the abortion focus.
Slate plays Donna Stern, an affably lewd comedian living in Brooklyn struggling to keep up her spirits up on and off the stage after a traumatizing break-up. It's familiar territory for Slate, but it's the actresses performance outside of the clearly comfortable stand-up comedy routines that the "SNL" veteran has a promising future on the big screen. Slate is adorable and funny, but when the script calls for it, she's genuine, endearing, and brings some raw emotion to the proceedings. The comedienne turns in a breakthrough performance that puts her in the same league as comedic leading ladies like Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, but she also shows off her impressive dramatic chops as well.
After Slate partakes in a one night stand following her big break-up and a terribly depressing stand-up set, she finds herself faced with the consequences of unprotected sex. While other movies, especially at Sundance, might place the focus on the idea of a potentially difficult decision to have an abortion or have the surprise bundle of joy, Robespierre casually approaches the subject, but isn't careless about it. In the hands of a female filmmaker, the subject has weight, but not melodramatically. The film doesn't walk on eggshells, but it doesn't gloss over a woman's struggle when faced with an unexpected pregnancy.
Interestingly enough, while certain tropes of any given romantic comedy show up in this film they don't feel artificial or exaggerated. It's far too much of a coincidence that Donna's one night stand just happens to be one of her mother's business school students in a place like New York City, but the script doesn't make a big deal out of it like any number of studio romantic comedies would. The film is founded firmly in the real world, with all the awkwardness of a real relationship, especially one that results in a pregnancy from a random, hasty sexual encounter.
Slate and Lacy make for a delightful kind of romance between two people who aren't made for each other at all. Their interaction has some truly loveable moments, and unlike most romantic comedies, none of it feels forced at all. Even the inclusion of Polly Draper and Richard Kind as Donna's mother and father results in genuine sweetness, whereas most romantic comedies manufacture faux charm with these kind of characters. The parents are far from perfect, and don't always have sage advice and wisdom to help our leading lady figure everything out in a single scene. They do what parents do, and provide comfort to their child, and that's something pretty much everyone can appreciate.
Obvious Child is everything that romantic comedies wish they could be. Writer and director Gillian Robespierre has crafted a pure and honest look at abortion which is funny and frank without being negligent of the emotional weight that comes with such a harrowing choice. Jenny Slate is superb in her first leading role, stretching both her comedic and dramatic muscles to great effect, with a sincere and pleasantly entertaining performance. Obvious Child is satisfying in every way, delivering big laughs, tender romance, and a refreshing story in a genre plagued by familiarity and artificiality.
Ethan's Sundance 2014 Rating: 8 out of 10
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