Front Row at the Movies
Is Not So Obvious
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Hey, how about a funny, uplifting romantic comedy about … abortion?
Now that’s a showstopper.
It’s a topic that’s usually only broached in movies (think: “Juno”), never carried out.
However, Gillian Robespierre is not your everyday filmmaker. Sure, this is her first feature film, but she knows how to turn a cliché inside out as surely as a practiced comic delivering a punchline.
Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” -- now playing at Tropic Cinema -- is not what you might expect. The obvious child of the title isn’t the fetus in question; rather it’s the young woman who isn’t ready to be a mother.
Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a twentysomething bookstore clerk who’s trying to make it as a standup comic. She plays small clubs in Brooklyn, making fun of her Jewish looks, telling flatulence jokes, and finding humor in her sex life. She sees her own life as subject matter for her act.
But everybody doesn’t laugh. Tired of being the target of her comedy jibes, her boyfriend (Paul Briganti) dumps her. And she gets fired. Well, downsized.
Donna reacts by wallowing in her sorrow. Stalking her old beau. Drinking too much. Her roommate (Gaby Hoffmann) is worried about her. And with good reason. Acting out, Donna engages in a one-night stand with a nice-guy stranger (Jake Lacy).
The pregnancy test glows pink.
There’s never any question that Donna is not ready to become a mom. So the abortion option is the way she chooses to go. And when she finally breaks the news to the straight-laced dude who knocked her up, he agrees it’s her choice.
Unlike Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” there’s no child to circle the wagons around. So will Donna and Max, two polar opposites, come together? Well, it is a rom-com. Right?
Real-life comedienne Jenny Slate, who takes the lead as Donna, will win you over. Slate will be forever remembered as the new Saturday Night Live cast member who said the F-bomb on live TV.
Here, Gillian Robespierre uses the A-bomb. But unlike Slate’s unintentional faux pas, clever, break-the-mold Robespierre is doing it quite deliberately. “Obvious child” is based on a 2009 short film that she made as a trial balloon.
“Calling the movie ‘Obvious Child’ wasn’t an accident,” Robespierre tells us. “We titled it. It felt perfect, because it had a sort of ambiguity to how people were going to see that title. Is Donna an obvious child? Is it just the Paul Simon song in the movie? It’s one of those things where I hate to overanalyze it, but people seem to love to overanalyze it, and I really like that.”
Variety reports that both “pro-choice and pro-life groups are claiming the movie as either an important feminist statement or a dangerous piece of propaganda.”
Yes, “Obvious Child” is controversial. It’s crass; it’s funny; it’s disturbing. But above all it’s a film told with painful honesty from a woman’s point of view.