Obvious Child: Sundance Review
Jenny Slate stars in Gillian Robespierre's film about a female comic who unexpectedly becomes pregnant.
Raunchy humor laced with gradually revealed vulnerability makes for a winning combination in Obvious Child, a wildly funny and appealing female-centric comedy that launches very promising talent on both sides of the camera. Expanded from a popular 2009 short of the same name, this sharp-witted, fast-talking feature from first-time writer-director Gillian Robespierre centers on a stand-up comedian whose uncensored accounts of her private life serve her well until she is broadsided by an unplanned pregnancy. A resourceful distributor might be able to take this beyond certain popularity in young and sophisticated-skewing markets to success in wider release.
At the center of everything is 28-year-old Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a good-looking stream-of-consciousness potty-mouth who suggests a less smart-alecky, more confessional Sarah Silverman. The hilarious routine she performs in the opening scene before an appreciative audience in a small Brooklyn club becomes an instant memory when her boyfriend informs her -- very publicly in the bathroom --that he's sleeping with someone else and they're done, partly because he doesn't appreciate his sex life being aired in public on a regular basis.
Thrown for a loop, Donna gets wasted and seeks solace with her best friend, Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann, who is aces) and her divorced parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper, both quite wonderful). Her next gig is a morose, self-pitying disaster, which leads to more drinking and a night of riotous, reckless sex with a good-looking straight-arrow from Vermont named Max (Jake Lacy) who, from her upfront Jewish perspective, is "so Christian he's like a Christmas tree."
Despite her downbeat mood, everything is grist for Donna's comic mill; she has affectionately dubbed Max "The Pee-Farter" for the moment he took a leak on the street and cut one at the same time, something that endeared him to her. As Nellie observes, what's great about Donna, both onstage and in life, is that she is unapologetically herself at all times, and this makes her terrific company for the viewer as well. One could imagine that she might be exhausting at times and hard to keep up with, but she's never dull.
Three weeks after her WASPy one-night stand, however, she learns that, no doubt about it, she's pregnant. It's no surprise that an abortion is her instant answer to the problem, but she's got to wait a bit and in the interim her fuller personality blossoms. She quizzes her girlfriends and mother about her situation, riffs about it honestly at the comedy club, to a warm response, but just can't bring herself to tell Max, a good-hearted soul who understandably can't quite make sense of Donna's erratic behavior toward him.
In other hands, the film's second half could have become too serious, sentimental or agenda-charged, but Robespierre always keeps authentic emotion and brainy humor in the forefront. Her irrepressibly bawdy take on life notwithstanding, Donna has a good soul underneath it all, which provides the film with a constant and agreeable glow.
A real live-wire, Slate is terrific in the stand-up sequences as well as the one-on-one scenes with the uniformly excellent actors who fill out the supporting parts. The material and the performances all seem honed to as fine a point as they could be, a tribute to Robespierre's effort in the years since making the short to maximize her first film in every department.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (NEXT)
Production: Rooks Nest Entertainment, Sundial Pictures
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, David Cross
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Screenwriter: Gillian Robespierre
Producer: Elisabeth Holm
Executive producers: Stefan Nowicki, Michael Sackler, Julia Godzinskaya, Sophie Vickers, Brent Stiefel, Jenny Slate, David Kaplan, Gillian Robespierre
Director of photography: Chris Teague
Production designer: Sara K. White
Editor: Casey Brooks