Review: The Obvious Child (Sundance 2014)
PLOT: Donna (Jenny Slate) -a twenty-seven year old comedienne eking out a living in Brooklyn- finds herself pregnant after a one night stand.
REVIEW: I never thought I'd see the day when a feel-good comedy about abortion would be the breakout hit of the Sundance Film Festival. Sure enough, shortly after its premiere, THE OBVIOUS CHILD found itself picked-up by indie upstart A24 in one of the richest deals of the fest- with a theatrical release likely in the cards. Having finally seen the film for myself, I'm pleased to report that THE OBVIOUS CHILD is more than just a lightening rod for controversy. While abortion is certainly a big part of the film, it's more than just a button-pushing comedy, and emerges one of the more thoughtful, humane films to emerge from this year's fest.
Jenny Slate- formerly of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE- is ideally cast in the lead. The film starts with a stand-up set where Donna fearlessly lays bare all the ways her life comes up short, with the result that her boyfriend, who's sick of being fodder for her act, dumps her. This throws her into a tailspin, and leads to a one-night-stand with a young professional named Max (Jake Lacy) who's essentially her opposite. While Donna is a free-wheeling, Jewish bohemian, Max is a buttoned down WASP with an MA in business, and ambition to burn. Once she finds herself pregnant, Donna has to wait two weeks before the abortion can be performed, and the crux of the film follows her as she comes to terms with her decision- which is far from taken lightly- and must decide whether or not Max deserves to know about her condition.
If JUNO was ultimately a pro-life film, THE OBVIOUS CHILD is its pro-choice equivalent. While essentially a comedy, Donna's decision to have an abortion is far from taken lightly, and it leads to a surprisingly somber moment where one of Donna's circle of confidants relates an experience she had getting an abortion in the seventies, back when it was still illegal and done in backroom clinics. Still, THE OBVIOUS CHILD is not overly concerned with any kind of agenda, merely taking the stance that being pro-life is the only truly enlightened position to take. Director Gillian Robespierre's film is ultimately an empowering film encouraging women to take a pro-active role in deciding their future. However, the most pleasant surprise here is that the male half of the equation is not ignored either, with Donna's one-night-stand Max being an eminently decent sort of guy, and wholly sympathetic.
While THE OBVIOUS CHILD is clearly concerned with large, serious issues, it's ultimately a comedy, and a frequently hilarious one at that. Slate seems like a star in the making here, with this being a far better showcase for her talent than SNL was. Her stand-up routines are thoroughly foul, but always hilarious with her tackling the kind of scatological humour that is still taboo for female comediennes in some circles. Her Donna is thoroughly likable, and her drunken courtship with Max is both gross and cute, with her falling for him after he accidentally farts in her face. Her and Lacy make a cute couple, and their chemistry is perfect despite the two of them being polar opposites (her reaction to his Christian faith- “he's like a walking Christmas tree. I think he actually knows Santa personally”). David Cross pops up in a strong cameo as one of Donna's former flames, while former child-star turned indie darling Gaby Hoffman has a strong part as Donna's supportive roommate.
Clearly, THE OBVIOUS CHILD is not going to appeal to all audiences (arch-conservatives will no doubt have a field day with this once it comes out) but in the end it's a thoughtful, deeply human and humane comedy with a good heart and something important to say. It's one of the most pleasant surprises to emerge from the fest this year, and promises big things for both its director Robespierre, who masterfully balances comedy and pathos, as well as breakout star Jenny Slate.