SIFF Film Review – Obvious Child
Director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate‘s Obvious Child has done something close to impossible in creating a fun yet surprisingly serious romantic comedy. We start with seeing Donna (Jenny Slate), a twenty-something stand-up comedian in the middle of her set. This at first had me worried for what I was in for; her material was full of bathroom humor and commentary about her sex life, which is not to my taste. However, after she gets off stage and starts interacting with her friends and family she becomes interesting and funny. She goes through a bit of a Job-like experience; her boyfriend breaks up with her after admitting that he slept with her friend, and the bookstore she works at is shutting down. Donna starts spiraling, which leads to some great drunken voice mails to her ex, some light stalking, and some embarrassing public performances. Yet there was a rawness here that keeps things grounded while never forgetting to be funny. This bad place Donna is in leads to a drunken night in which she meets and has a fling with Max (Jake Lacy). Max at first comes off as a stuffed-shirt type that might be good for Donna to get over her ex with, but I didn’t see a great deal more beyond that. Yet he surprised me, as they spend time together; he has a sense of humor and is able to roll with her random jokes and one-liners and gives back as good as he gets. There is never the sense that these two are destined to end up together, yet the potential for something is present. Though for much of the movie, him being nice is actually more of a problem because, as if she hasn’t suffered enough, Donna has gotten pregnant from that night and knows she is not equipped at this time to be a mother and now she has no idea how to act around this nice guy that she likes but doesn’t know that well. Donna is able to sell us on all this happening because she is so infinitely relate-able. She is in her early twenties, she is unsure of herself in many things and makes believable mistakes. Also, she never feels like a loser, trying to live off her family or get out of her problems; she is aware of her situation and works to change things. In all, she feels like “a regular twenty-year-old,” just with better banter. This is brought to focus with her potential relationship with Max, where their issues never fall into the typical lame misunderstanding that most romantic comedies use to keep the couple apart. In fact, most of it is from her trying to deal with the pregnancy, internally. It is also her potential relationship with Max being another aspect of what this pregnancy means for her and where she wants to be in her life. She is the center and the film never forgets that. To that end, the supporting cast around her, of family and friends, are used correctly in enhancing her personality, while still feeling like real people. While they are funny characters in their own right, they never feel like quirky side characters to throw in one-liners, but people that we could easily see her being around. Her parents are very successful in their fields; they come off as regular people who just want what is best for her. They sometimes get on her nerves, but the love is clear and we even see where she gets some of her personality from. Her friends are introduced matter-of-factly and we easily see why they would be friends with her based on their reactions to her and how quickly their personalities come through. With little to no background given, I found myself creating where they met and how they got to know each other based on just a few scenes. This was a film that feels stronger the more it has time to soak in. Beyond how well they bring this young woman’s life to us, it brings the perfect ending to Donna in her dealings with this relationship and her pregnancy. It doesn’t make things totally perfect but simply goes with what is right for the character at that moment. Plus they have some fun by gently poking at romantic comedies in general. Director Gillian Robespierre has a clear view of her characters and the type of story she wants to tell and is great at finding the balance between the darker aspects of her characters and simply having a good time with them. Also, be sure to check out our interview with writer/director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate from SIFF 2014.