Big Heart And Sharp Humour Help Sell This Indie Debut. Cute.
Expanding on her own short of the same name, writer/director Gillian Robespierre’s debut feature Obvious Child opens with a self-deprecating stand-up routine from 20-something, Jewish comedian Donna, played with a whole lot of heart by Jenny Slate.
Perhaps surprising, given the charismatic Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation alumni’s track record, these stand-up sequences, despite their unflinching look at love and sex, are a little strained and not overly original, barring a genuinely funny and wicked home truth about undies at the end of a long day.
Despite this slight opening misstep, Slate’s easy bravado is infectious, with Robespierre’s nuanced script examining the everyday travails involved in finding your way through life in the gap between graduation and grown up stuff. This comic drama is set very firmly in the now instantly recognisable Brooklyn of Lena Dunham’s Girls, with a dash of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha thrown in for good measure.
There’s a hideous break up and even more hideous drunken return fire when Donna’s boyfriend dumps her very publicly in a unisex toilet immediately following her brutal revelation of their listless love life during that stand-up, and the quirkily cool flatmate who picks up the pieces in fellow Girls guest star Gabby Hoffman, who could have been used a bit more. Kooky divorced parents also come included in the shape of Spin City’s Richard Kind as a kindly puppeteer and Thirtysomething’s Polly Draper as a college teacher who’s seen it all. And let’s not forget Gabe Liedman as gay BFF Joey.
Donna’s pre-dumping routine is nicely echoed later on when Max (Jake Lacy, The Office), a cornfed boy she picks up the night she breaks up and whom she describes as “so Christian he’s like a Christmas tree,” also endures having their private business made public on stage. Not that they’re a couple, exactly. It’s complicated.
After their drunken fun one-night-stand, Donna darts out in the morn, fully intending never to see him again despite, or perhaps because of, his dashing good looks and perfect gentleman behaviour. Except she soon finds out she’s pregnant by him, just as the Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Book Store she’s working at during the day closes down, and all of a sudden real life forces some difficult decisions. It just so happens that a series of odd coincidences ensures her path keeps crossing with the oblivious and really rather sweet Max.
While it’s not hugely original territory, Robespierre handles it deftly, offering a genuine take on the abortion dilemma that feels both natural and non-judgemental. The actors are uniformly fantastic, with Slate in particular impressive. Her comic timing is spot on, and she’s extremely expressive.
A commendably female-focused film, there are a couple of annoying niggles, like passing comments from Donna about her weight problem even those she’s clearly sporting a svelte figure and faultlessly flat stomach; though perhaps that’s the point – the way we perceive ourselves, particularly when between a rock and a hard place, is often a little askew.
Amiably sweet, relatable, and occasionally very amusing, Obvious Child may seem very familiar, but it’s got guts, with both Gabe Liedman Robespierre and Slate ones to watch out for.
Stephen A Russell