Film reviews: Obvious Child | Sin City | If I Stay

Jenny Slate plays comedian Donna in Obvious Child. Picture: Contributed

Jenny Slate plays comedian Donna in Obvious Child. Picture: Contributed

Share this article
1
Have your say

THERE are not many entertaining films about abortion. I almost began the last sentence with the word “obviously”, but maybe it’s not so clear-cut. After all, there are countless comedies featuring the taboo topics of murder, cannibalism, Nazis or suicide, yet in recent times only Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth dared incorporate Laura Dern’s unwed mother into a satire where she is chased as a propaganda prize by both pro-life and pro-choice lobbies.

Obvious Child (15)

Director: Gillian Robespierre

***

Now Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child arrives at our cinemas from America flagged as a groundbreaking topical comedy on an emotive subject: yet it isn’t really about abortion. The child of the title is 28-year-old Donna (Jenny Slate), a stand up comedian who uses everything in her life as unfiltered material for her act, from her stained underwear to her “functional” sex life. Unsurprisingly, after we see that routine, Donna’s boyfriend dumps her, partly because he feels humiliated, but mainly because he has already moved on to her pretty best friend.

In response, Donna does a bit of weeping, a bit of stalking and a lot of drinking, which culminates in a one night stand with a clean-cut stranger called Max (Jake Lacy), and the discovery that she is pregnant. Max seems quite nice, but since Jenny is as self-destructive as she is self-absorbed, she isn’t interested. When he manages to track her down to ask her for a proper date, she is packing up her day job as a book store assistant and fobs him off while sitting in a large cardboard box. Robespierre is not always subtle about her visual metaphors: Donna boxing herself off from the possibilities offered by a sweet, friendly man is one of them.

On the other hand, the sources of Donna’s (obvious) child-woman behaviour are deftly sketched out when she visits her lovely but indulgent father (Richard Kind) and a sterner more judgmental mother (Polly Draper). She also gets propped up by supportive friends (Gaby Hoffman and Gabe Liedman), and rarely seems to offer people much in return. Usually the short-cut to audience affection comes through smart one-liners, but not everyone will find Donna’s intimate stand-up amusing. Often, it borders on the uncomfortable – and yet you root for Donna, because she’s got a redemptive measure of self-awareness, and because Robespierre and Slate offer such a warm and authentic portrait of a screw-up.

This is a minor, mildly transgressive indie film, and the fact that Obvious Child has been inflated into an important statement about abortion really says a lot more about a cinema where some films can’t bring themselves to say the word: when iconoclast Judd Apatow tackled accidental pregnancy in Knocked Up, the topic is raised as “rhymes with schma-shmortion” and then rapidly dismissed. No wonder that when a film like Obvious Child fails to treat an abortion as a source of lasting angst, trauma, and regret, it feels progressive.

Maybe further down the line, we will see a movie which is more honest in expressing a woman’s relief and certainty she has done the right thing. That’s not everyone’s experience of abortion, but it’s a condition that needs to be acknowledged because it exists in the real world, yet rarely in the reel world.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (18)

**

BACK in 2005, Sin City had a forward-thinking digital look that used computer-generated backdrops and real actors to generate exceptionally visceral thrills. Nine years on, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, offers more of the same hyper-stylised pastiche with the bloody sex and violence amped up.

Hardcore fans may be delighted by more Sin City, but this feels like a photocopy of the first film’s graphic, pulpy noir, which is underlined when Bruce Willis’s John Hartigan returns as literally a ghost of himself, observing the stripper (Jessica Alba, above) he tried to protect in life hitting the vengeance trail. Elsewhere in the episodic, criss-crossing stories, loyal dim bulb Marv (Mickey Rourke) is also back, trying to work out why he killed a bunch of guys.

Showing more skin than any stripper is Eva Green as the Dame of the title, who throws up mayday signs for help from hammer-headed Dwight (Josh Brolin). Green’s femme fatale is a new character, but we’ve seen her mad badness schtick before in low budget movies like Cracks and big budget blokebuster stuff like 300: Rise Of An Empire. Sometimes nude, often hammy and really quite enjoyable, nevertheless there’s a point when caricature can become a career. And you can’t help noticing that in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s world, practically all the male actors are over 40, but all the women are under 35.

On general release

Night Moves (15)

***

Three idealistic environmentalists plot to blow up a hydroelectric dam. This may sound like a thriller, but since it’s directed by Kelly Reichardt, who specialises in artful, minimalist stories like Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy And Lucy, it plays out like last year’s eco-terrorist movie The East, with its batteries on the wane. Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard star.

On general release from Friday

The Grand Seduction (12A)

***

Don McKellar fashions a low-key charmer where a small Canadian town has to persuade a young doctor (Taylor Kitsch) to stay for a month in order to secure a petrochemical investment. Brendan Gleeson co-stars as a wily mayor in this broad strokes Local Hero.

On general release from Friday

Million Dollar Arm (PG)

***

The true story of a baseball agent (Jon Hamm) who goes scouting for star players amongst India’s cricket teams. A cross between Bend It Like Beckham and Cool Runnings, you can see what Disney is pitching from a mile away, but it’s polished and pleasant.

On general release from Friday

If I Stay (12A)

**

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as this month’s terminal teen movie, as a cellist who falls for a guitarist (Jamie Blackly). Mordant young adults might enjoy its maudlin wallow.

On general release from Friday

Mystery Road (15)

***

Slow but reasonably suspenseful drama where an Aboriginal cop (Aaron Pedersen) returns home to investigate the murder of an indigenous teenager.

Edinburgh Filmhouse, Friday until 4 September

Let’s Be Cops (15)

*

Damon Wayans Jr and Jake Johnson star as an unemployed actor and a video games nerd who pose as police officers to get respect and female attention. Noisy gunplay, screaming homophobia and stale gags that couldn’t get arrested at any other time of the year.

On general release from Wednesday

Back to the top of the page