OBVIOUS CHILD – The Review
Let’s take a detour, a very hard left turn to be more precise, from the noisy Summer block busters and head to the independent side streets of cinema. And, as is usually the case, the side street is in New York City. This is another quirky comedy about an off-kilter, free-spirit trying to make a life for herself while rebelling against adulthood as her 20’s come to a close, the same territory treaded by PARTY GIRL and FRANCES HA. Oh, and perhaps she can hook up with a good guy along the way. The heroine of this new film faces a complication that sets her journey on a different path than many of those previous “indie” movie icons. That’s because some very tough, very adult decisions are in store for this OBVIOUS CHILD.
Our introduction to Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) takes place as she regales a small audience with her witty observations and anecdotes at a small comedy club. Her euphoria from all the laughter is erased backstage, in the co-ed bathroom, as her boyfriend breaks up with her (he’s hooked up with one of her pals!). The streak of bad luck continues as her bookstore boss informs her that he’s closing the place in a few weeks (I wonder if it’s near the bookstore that Woody Allen shuts down in FADING GIGILO?). Donna gets great support from her roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann), stand-up pal Joey (Gabe Liedman), and her comedy writer/puppeteer pop, Jacob (Richard Kind). Her college professor mother Nancy (Polly Draper), on the other hand, thinks that Donna should have a life plan and has printed up some spread sheets to help jump-start her job quest! Donna’s frustration build until she uses her comedy gig to vent, laying a big egg at the club. As she proceeds to drown her sorrows post-show with Joey, she meets hunky, somewhat straight-laced Max (Jake Lacy) at the bar. The booze helps float Donna back to Max’s place that night and (to quote the TV show “Seinfeld”, “Yada, yada, yada…”), that next morning a groggy Donna heads back home. The two lose track of each other over the next few weeks, when she’s hit with some physical maladies. A drug store test kit confirms her suspicions: she’s pregnant. A nurse at the local clinic sets an appointment for the termination procedure on February 14. Really, an abortion on Valentine’s Day? As the days click away, Donna wonders what else will life have in store for her in advance of the big day.
So, in the last couple of sentences I dropped the big ‘A-bomb”. Perhaps I should have issued the big spoiler alert, but since it’s emblazoned on several ads via a critic quote I think it should be brought up in the discussion. The procedure isn’t dismissed away with a couple of lines of dialogue as in films like PARENTHOOD or the source of a desperate action sequence, going back fifty years or so to Hollywood flicks like BLUE DENIM and LOVE WITH A PROPER STRANGER, where the back-alley abortionists were slapped down. In OBVIOUS, the alternatives aren’t really discussed either, but a lengthy debate wouldn’t work using this main character. The closest scenes to that are experiences related by Donna’s friends that evoke melancholy and even tears. Kudos must go to the screenplay by director Gillain Robespierre working from a story by Karen Maine, Elisabeth Holm, and Anna Bean which was expanded from a 2009 short film. But this is not a hot-button “message” film, it can be exhaustingly funny as when Donna hangs out across the street from his ex’s place, hoping to spy him and her former friend (“Just two more minutes, then I’ll leave”). As the poster quote states, it is a “rom-com”, but the controversial subject will put off many fans of those usual studio-made bits of fluff. More kudos to director Robespierre for treating the audience as adults by not attempting to “play it safe”. She also displays a great knack for comic timing and giving sequences a taut rhythm and flow.
Oh, and she’s assembled a superb cast anchored by a big, brassy breakout performance by Slate, who’s best known for her television work. Most recently she stole scenes as the gold-digging Mona-Lisa Saperstein on “Parks and Recreation”, but her first be claim to fame was on her first episode as part of the cast of TV’s “Saturday Night Live” in 2009 when she accidentally dropped the dreaded “F-bomb” (she was not asked to return for a second year). Her stand-up persona in the film recalls the raunch of Amy Schumer and Chealsea Handler along with the ethnic gags (and more raunchiness) of Sarah Silverman. Her fearlessness fades away from the mike to reveal an endearing vulnerability. We’re immediately in her corner hoping she’ll get past the big break-up, even as she leaves countless drunken messages on her ex-beau’s voicemail. Later, as she lets loose with Max, Slate shows a wild, sexy side as they careen about his apartment to a pounding beat blasting from the stereo. More leading roles for this lady, please! But wait, there’s other actors in the film and Ms.Slate works very well with them, most prominately is her leading man Mr. Lacy as the somewhat button-down Max. Happily his relationship with Donna gets him to loosen up considerably and Lacy is able to use the comic skills he devolped in the last couple of seasons on TV’s “The Office” as the besieged Pete. Liedman takes the often clichéd role of the gay best pal of the heroine role and gives it a fresh spin. Also terrific in the supportive buddy role is Hoffman, in a twist from many films, is “the roommate from Heaven (yes, not that other place)”. It’s a great companion piece to her “Earth mother” role in last year’s CRYSTAL FAIRY. Kind and Draper are welcome additions to the cast as the different parents (a flashback to their courtship would make for an engaging film), as is David Cross as an on-the-make comedian acquaintance.
Splendid work from all involved, so if you can handle the tough subject matter and some very coarse language than this film may be the Summer respite from the sequels and reboots that you’ve been hoping to see. OBVIOUS CHILD eschews the easy juvenile gross-out gags, to be one of the year’s best, truly adult comedies.
4 Out of 5
OBVIOUS CHILD opens everywhere and screens exclusively in the St. Louis area at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinemas