Review: 'Obvious Child'
In numerous appearances on Comedy Central's Kroll Show, NBC's Parks and Recreation and the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, Jenny Slate has shown a tendency for weirdness. She's not above dressing up silly or embarrassing herself to get a laugh, but there's also an endearing element that's always right underneath the surface. Her characters are annoying but in an appealing way, which made me wonder what else she might be capable of. Well, she's finally gotten a chance to show off her range in Obvious Child -- Slate's on screen for 100% of its 84 minutes -- and she doesn't disappoint. You may have heard it described as "the abortion movie," which is technically accurate; the plot revolves around bookstore clerk/standup comedian Donna (Slate) and her decision to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. But in a welcome change of pace, writer/director Gillian Robespierre and Slate don't spend much time debating the moral aspects of getting an abortion; they're chiefly focused on how Donna handles it, and how the people around her respond to the news.
She's not afraid of getting the abortion as much as concerned about what her uptight mother might do once she finds out. It's not anxiety about how the guy will respond to the announcement so much as fear over committing to a relationship that starts in this kind of way. Donna never really wrestles with her decision; her conscience doesn't face off against the logical parts of her brain. She's committed to what she believes is right and defuses the gravity of the situation with well-placed humor when necessary, which makes the moments when she's overwhelmed by emotion that much more powerful. It's quite the potential tightrope for a movie to navigate, but they walk it with unparalleled smoothness.
Obvious Child is without a doubt the Jenny Slate show, but she's given a wonderful ensemble to play off of. Max (Jake Lacy) is adorable as the preppy impregnator who doesn't understand why Donna is hesitant to turn their one-night stand into something more, and Gabe Liedman is brilliant as her supportive gay friend and fellow comedian. Richard Kind and Polly Draper are also perfectly cast as her parents; it's not a stretch to imagine a world where their lovemaking produced Jenny Slate.
My one serious issue with the film concerns David Cross's character, who pops up in a few scenes as the proprietor of the bar/club where Donna performs. He appears with no buildup and serves as a very casual antagonist who only exists (plot-wise) to convince Donna that Max is far more worthy of her time and attention. It's a common enough scene in any rom-com (ramming home how the grass is indeed greener on the other side) but it's the only moment that feels forced. I couldn't hope but wonder (and this is a little inside baseball) if they had Cross on set for one day and had to pack his scenes in hastily; a few more moments with his character might've allowed his inclusion to resonate a bit more.
That said, it's almost astounding how well Obvious Child handles such a touchy subject. The dramatic elements fit like a glove, and every bit of comedy comes across as truly genuine and the perfect counterbalance to the seriousness. I never knew Slate could handle sincerity with such aplomb, and it's refreshing to see abortion addressed not as a forbidden taboo but a legitimate life choice with all the potential repercussions and complications that come with anything so significant. It isn't the right decision for everyone but there's a place for it in society, and the thematic undercurrent throughout Obvious Child is that learning from your mistakes and bouncing back as a person can be, with the right kind of support and love, something we're all capable of.