Full disclosure: I cannot stand romantic comedies. A generally insufferable sub-genre that does a disservice to the words “romance” and “comedy,” since they are usually neither romantic nor funny. Cheaply made, idiotic, and often not featuring anything that would elicit a genuine emotional reaction from an audience member, I tend to avoid them at any cost. That being said, I’m pleased to say that Obvious Child is a true winner; a perfect antidote to these foul motion pictures. Endearing and hilarious in equal measure, the wonderfulness of Obvious Child can be summed up in two words: Jenny Slate. A talented actress with ace comedic timing, Slate carries the picture to victory with a wonderfully committed lead performance.
Donna’s (Jenny Slate) life seemingly has no direction. An aspiring stand-up comedian who works at an independent bookstore in NYC, Donna often divulges into deeply personal facts during her comedy routine, which leads to the subsequent breakup with her boyfriend. Wallowing her sorrows away with alcohol while her parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper) and roommate (Gaby Hoffman) offer support to the heartbroken comic, Donna soon meets Max (Jake Lacy), a straight-laced, charming young man at one of her shows. After a one night stand leads to pregnancy, Donna fearfully faces a tough decision while Max looks to start a relationship with the young woman, hoping to win over the heart of the comedienne.
A word of warning to prudish audience members: if you like your rom-coms clean, you’d best steer clear of this feature. The opening credit sequence alone finds Donna discussing, in graphic detail, the effects of her vagina on fresh pair of panties and the relief of flatulence when she finds herself alone. It’s almost like an endurance test, determined to weed out the weak-willed audience members before settling into the story. The crudeness eases up (slightly) after the initial sequence, and while the fart jokes don’t necessarily let up, the film has so much more to offer, namely a heart and some brains. The pregnancy acts as a spoiler in Donna’s life, and Donna is certainly not ready to have a baby, forcing the woman to stop and look at her life in progress and seriously ponder the choices she’s made and the ones she faces.
It must be said that abortion plays an important role in the later stages of the story. The subject is handled with a refreshing level of maturity as Donna explores all viable options, never coming off cheap or exploitive for the sake of shock factor. Things are even trickier for Donna with Max in the picture, as she is afraid to share the news with the man, unsure if he will support her or resent her for her decisions. It’s assured work from Slate, guided by Gillian Robespierre’s honest direction. I wish more films sought to be like this.
Obvious Child doesn’t always take the obvious way out, and even though it does delve into uncomfortable (and possible dangerous) territory, the picture keeps its head above water and makes a successful finish. As witty and intelligent as the script is, the real revelation here is Slate, easily delivering one of the best performances of the year in a role that is not easy to play. Here’s to hoping we see more of her soon.