In theory, the main character of “Obvious Child” might’ve had a different occupation; she could have been an accountant, or a grad student or a waitress.
But Donna Stern is a stand-up comedian, and that is as it should be. Her act consists of exposing her personal problems and making them funny, in a style that’s meant to be honest and maybe cathartic.
Likewise, the movie attempts to air difficult, tangled issues in a blunt, no-sweat sort of way. Both Donna and her movie are pretty successful.
Donna, played by Jenny Slate, has just crashed after a breakup. In the aftermath, a one-night fling with a squarish guy named Max (Jake Lacy) results in pregnancy, an unexpected event that leads to Donna planning an abortion and also gauging whether to let Max in on the matter.
By including abortion so frankly in the story line, writer-director Gillian Robespierre is obviously engaging a topic that is rarely dealt in movies that aren’t single-note “issue” pictures. What’s unusual about this is the way abortion is a reality in Donna’s life, but not the sole reason for the movie’s existence—it’s just part of the world the protagonist lives in.
A few years ago “Knocked Up” took surprise pregnancy as a plot device, but didn’t have the nerve to mention abortion except as a passing joke. In folding abortion into a plot that is generally realistic in its approach, “Obvious Child” de-mystifies a divisive subject.
The overall feel of the movie is indie-Brooklyn: Donna has divorced but hip parents (Richard Kind, Polly Draper), a gay best friend (Gabe Liedman), and skeptical feminist roommate (Gaby Hoffman). All are types, but the performances are spirited.
Even as the movie dawdles along (to the point where its 84 minutes begin to feel slow), it does create atmosphere. It seems right that a film about a stand-up performer would have its rambling moments, like a monologue that occasionally loses its way.
Half the success of this film is because of the performance by Jenny Slate, a comedian whose TV stints have included a year on “Saturday Night Live” and short-term runs on “Parks and Recreation” and “House of Lies.”
Balancing sharp comic timing with a believably human presence, Slate never loses the thread of the character even during the film’s more absurd moments. She catches things that a non-comic actor probably wouldn’t find, like the absurdity in needing to make life funny even in the teeth of dark moments. She should come out of this a star.
“Obvious Child” (3 stars)
The world of a stand-up comedian (Jenny Slate), whose unexpected pregnancy leads her to consider abortion; although this plot strand is folded into an overall character study, not made the sole issue. An effective comedy, and Slate should come out of the film a star.
Rating: R, for language, subject matter
Showing: Guild 45th