Film reviews: Obvious Child

Jenny Slate becomes pregnant after a night of drunken passion in Obvious Child. Picture: Contributed

Jenny Slate becomes pregnant after a night of drunken passion in Obvious Child. Picture: Contributed

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FIRST TIME writer/director Gillian Robespierre does something funny and interesting with the subject of abortion in Obvious Child: she uses it as the basis for a rom-com without being glib about it.

Obvious Child (15)

Directed by: Gillian Robespierre

Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Polly Draper

Star Rating: ****

Stand-up comic and sometime Parks and Recreation star Jenny Slate plays Donna, a 27-year-old aspiring stand-up who works in a soon-to-close Brooklyn book shop and talks about her personal life with unflinching but amusingly insightful honesty on stage every other night. The latter trait doesn’t sit well with her callow boyfriend, who uses it as an excuse to break up with her in the opening scene, even though he eventually confesses he’s already sleeping with one of their mutual friends – something that leads to a hilariously unfunny spot of self-lacerating stand-up followed by a sorrow-drowning night of heavy drinking.

This leads to Donna meeting and then sleeping with Max (Jack Lacy) – a clean-cut MBA student who misses her act but likes her schtick, enough at least to create an instant, easy-going chemistry that doesn’t seem entirely alcohol-fuelled. When a night of drunken passion leads to impregnation, though, Donna knows instinctively that she’s not in any position to be a mother and cuts through her doctor’s euphemistic presentation of her “options” with the simple request: “An abortion please.”

It’s here that the film really starts demonstrating its mettle, not in terms of its “bravery” for tackling an issue that, in the US especially, is surrounded by hysteria, but in its presentation of an everyday situation with an unaffected honesty. Indeed, if anything this is a non-issue movie. The comedy emerges not from point-scoring jokes (although there are plenty of spiky throwaway lines that underscore the way women’s bodies have been politicised), but from Robespierre’s ability to slyly incorporate the tropes of the romantic comedy into a naturalistic setting, one that’s good at nailing the economic realities of New York (there are no loft apartments for these 20-somethings) and allows her actors to respond to each other in recognisably human ways.

Break the plot down, for instance, and it’s really a film about someone meeting potentially the right person at potentially the wrong time in their life, a genre staple as common as a protagonist having a gay best friend and a judgmental mother – both of which Donna has as well. The difference is that the film treats everyone as people with interior lives of their own, something that enables it to remain true to its protagonist’s journey instead of copping out at the last minute. In the end, Obvious Child’s title may refer to the perceived immaturity of its protagonist, but in every respect this is a comedy with an admirably grown-up sensibility.

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