×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Obvious Child’

Jenny Slate shines in a romantic comedy that dares to consider the subject of abortion suitable for date-night crowds.

With:

Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, Polly Draper, Richard Kind, David Cross, Paul Briganti.

Until now, audiences haven’t had much choice when it comes to how pregnancy is handled onscreen. Attacking the status quo with infectious humor rather than strident criticism, Gillian Robespierre’s uproarious “Obvious Child” centers a good, old-fashioned romantic comedy around a woman’s decision to abort a one-night stand gone wrong. While pro-lifers are liable to picket its existence, this refreshingly honest date-night laffer — snapped up by A24 at Sundance — hinges on a versatile turn from Jenny Slate, a wildly funny (if somewhat scatologically preoccupied) comedienne finally given a chance to reach deeper than her frequent guest-starring appearances have allowed.

The film’s fate relies heavily on whether audiences embrace Slate as a leading lady, seeing as how she plays a variation of her own persona: a standup comic who can’t resist poking fun at any life situation, no matter how serious. After being dumped by her b.f. (Paul Briganti), Donna Stern (Slate) tumbles into a mopey depression, seeking solace from her divorced parents (Richard Kind and a great-to-have-back Polly Draper) and super-tolerant/supportive best friend Nellie (Gaby Hoffman).

Donna’s comedy, already colored by her uneasy tendency to over-share (the pic opens with a cutesy routine about feminine flatulence), takes an even more uncomfortable turn after the breakup. After one of her more disastrous shows, Donna meets Max (“The Office’s” Jake Lacy), a handsome but square business-school grad who makes a fine rebound, but isn’t at all her type.

When Max comes courting a few days later, Donna has no idea what to do — and even less of a clue when a pregnancy test reveals her to be pregnant. The timeline’s a little murky here, although director Robespierre (who adapted the feature from the 2009 short co-written with Anna Bean and Karen Maine) observes her hopelessly immature heroine long enough for most to agree with the prognosis that Donna’s not quite ready to be a mom.

And so, with Donna’s mind made up about terminating the pregnancy, “Obvious Child” plumbs each and every awkward moment that follows to its full potential — not that the gags should be confused for standard sitcom material. The humor springs either from real-world recognition, as Robespierre and her co-writers go where others fear to tread, or in response to the cast’s lively, eccentrically lived-in characters.

Certainly, much of Donna’s appeal owes to Slate’s ability to ad-lib, though her dramatic range comes as a nice surprise: The entire situation puts her through some understandably wild emotional swings, and Slate proves more than equipped for the ride. In fact, it’s the teary scenes that prove most affecting, as when Donna finally finds the courage to confide in her mother, or in the clinic itself, where a callback to an earlier joke about Crocs footwear sneaks into the most poignant shot of the film.

Robespierre manages to cover a lot of psychological ground in just 83 minutes (no doubt, the short proved good practice), and things clip along briskly until Donna’s big appointment, which she was anti-romantically forced to schedule on Valentine’s Day. Here, the film toys with the question everyone saw coming — will she or won’t she? — complicated by the fact that Max turned out to be a pretty good guy after all. Let’s just say it’s a tough choice, though the fact that “Obvious Child” recognizes it as a choice makes all the difference.

The other difference, of course, is that this is a female-driven comedy with a refreshingly distaff-strong crew, written by a trio of clever modern gals, where the guy is cute and all, but clearly a lesser factor in the central drama. (Same goes for David Cross, who pops up in a creepy cameo as Donna’s boss, while Gabe Liedman — Slate’s hilarious offscreen gay best friend — is stereotypically adopted as one of the gals.)

“Girls” may have broken ground when Lena Dunham unsentimentally chaperoned her best friend to an abortion appointment, but “Obvious Child” goes one further by putting Donna’s decision in a well-rounded context. Treating the subject in comedic terms, rather than with movie-of-the-week solemnity, makes a strong statement unto itself, acknowledging that auds are familiar enough with the subject to relate. And for her follow-up? Robespierre says she’s preparing a comedy about divorce.

Sundance Film Review: 'Obvious Child'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 23, 2014. Running time: 83 MIN.

Production:

An A24 release of a Rooks Next Entertainment, Sundial Pictures presentation in association with Votiv Films. Produced by Elisabeth Holm. Executive producers, Julia Godzinskaya, David Kaplan, Stefan Nowicki, Gillian Robespierre, Michael Sackler, Jenny Slate, Brent Stiefel, Sophie Vickers. Co-producer, Joey Carey.

Crew:

Directed, written by Gillian Robespierre. Story, Anna Bean, Karen Maine, Elisabeth Holm, Robespierre, based on the short film by Bean, Maine, Robespierre. Camera (color, widescreen), Chris Teague; editor, Casey Brooks; music, Chris Bordeaux; production designer, Sara K. White; art director, Bridget Rafferty; set decorator, Ramsey Scott; costume designer, Evren Catlin; sound, Micah Bloomberg, Brennan McVicar; associate producer, Luisa Conlon; assistant director, Laura Klein; casting, Jessica Kelly.

With:

Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, Polly Draper, Richard Kind, David Cross, Paul Briganti.

More Film

  • Village Rockstars

    Female Filmmakers Are a Growing Voice in India

    The Indian film industry has historically been a male-dominated one, but the winds of change are blowing across the country, albeit slowly. Better-served than the rest of the country is the Mumbai-based Hindi-language industry, where there are several active female filmmakers including Zoya Akhtar (“Gully Boy”), Reema Kagti (“Gold”), Leena Yadav (“Rajma Chawal”), Gauri Shinde [...]

  • Florence Pugh

    Scarlett Johansson's 'Black Widow' Movie Adds Florence Pugh

    “Black Widow’s” web may soon be growing. Sources tell Variety that Florence Pugh is in talks to join Scarlett Johansson’s standalone superhero film. More Reviews Concert Review: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Dishes Up Seminal Pink Floyd Delights TV Review: 'Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists' on Freeform Pugh has been on the hot list for [...]

  • Mira Lesmana Sets up Indonesia Remake

    Mira Lesmana Sets Up Indonesian Remake of CJ's 'Sunny'

    Indonesia’s Miles Film and Korea’s CJ Entertainment are to co-produce an Indonesian remake of Korean hit “Sunny.” The film is a female-driven dramedy about a group of adult friends who reunite 20 years after high school. Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, “Sunny” was one of the highest-grossing movies in Korea when it was released in 2011. [...]

  • John Hodges

    Jax Media Taps A24 Co-Founder John Hodges as Head of New Film Division

    TV production powerhouse Jax Media is expanding into film and tapped John Hodges, one of the founding partners of A24, as its new head of film. “I’m thrilled to be joining the team at Jax,” Hodges said. “Theirs is a potent brand that I’ve admired for a long time, and their reputation as innovative partners [...]

  • Hong Kong's TVB Plans OTT Boost,

    Hong Kong's TVB Plans OTT Boost, Sets 'Court Lady' With Huanyu

    Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts is set to boost its OTT platforms locally and abroad with new packages and initiatives targeting the Southeast Asian market. The city’s biggest broadcaster has also renewed its partnership with China’s Huanyu Entertainment following the wild success the two enjoyed last year with court rivalry drama “Story of Yanxi Palace.” The [...]

  • Blue Planet II

    Documentaries Show Strong Signs of Growth in Global Markets

    Nearly 40% of exhibitors at FilMart this year are currently involved in documentary films. This year, there are 290 such exhibitors from 26 countries and regions, an increase of 30% from the year before, and 24 nonfiction titles in screening sessions, nearly double last year’s 13 titles. The market launched its “Doc World” section in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content