Note: This film came out a while ago. There was no chance for me to see it until now as it is on Amazon Instant. For Prime members you can watch it for free which is an incredible steal.
Sometimes, theres a point in a comedy that stars a comedian where stand up takes over, where the script sort of matriculates into momentous monologue in the form of a string of jokes. The comedian seems to lift him or herself up from the diegesis of the film, from a character within the film world to the reminder that they are actually real people who tell real jokes to audiences. My method of description reflects the ironic nature of such a phenomenon because on one hand there is a moment of raw sensibility, an authenticity that the audience can sense when a comedian passively breaks the fourth wall. Yet, it always risks ruining the story because we know it is not the actual character speaking but almost a self-promotion of sorts that the comedian takes advantage of. It can certainly work but most times it doesn’t and the stories these comedians are surrounded with are nevertheless shallow.
This is most certainly not the case for Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child,” starring Jenny Slate, a stand-up comedian. In fact, one could deduce that instead of the comedy of the comedian taking over it is the drama and introspection of life that takes over the comedian. It is what makes this film more than a romantic comedy. There are scenes that ferociously force you to laugh out loud and then there are scenes that expose you to a vulnerability. Relationships are filmed so well that I left this film wanting to see more, wanting to see many of these relationships evolve more, especially between Slate’s Donna and her father, played by Richard Kind. At some points there were moments that would even break the mold of conventional storytelling and leaves us in a state of contemplation or lost in feeling, but the film remained grounded in a somewhat predictable format. Nonetheless, I thought I should get the negatives out of the way first because I would rather talk about where this film excels.
Jenny Slate is rambunctiously awesome in this film, just flipping tremendous. She is so good that it makes me realize just how porous the Oscar nominations were. Not just for “Selma,” not just for Steve James and “Life Itself,” not just for “The Lego Movie,” but for Jenny Slate. Maybe we are looking in the wrong places for these nominations. Sometimes, the whereabouts of Meryl Streep are not always the locations of nominations.
Good grief, I digress…
“Obvious Child” is all about Slate’s Donna and what we witness is a complex, determined, scared, fun, and sentimental woman all wrapped up in a comedians cynicism mixed in with a directionless future. Donna’s stand-up, because she literally is herself on stage, reflects both a mastery of self-satire and a fright towards her more serious issues. Openness in sexuality might be funny and it might be a way to take her mind off the idea that she really just wants a somewhat of an ideal relationship. Slate does not hesitate to show Donna’s vulnerability, and Gillian’s direction cares for such vulnerability. Some of the moments almost took me by surprise but it was organic as if Donna, herself, could not believe what was going on. Her vulnerability is tested after a one night stand and she finds out she is pregnant. The possible father, though, happens to be a very nice man. In fact, it is a niceness that is usually ignored in some films. And intriguingly, as one could easily frame this film as feminist, there is a certain chivalrous aspect to his nature, not in a traditional sense but in a sense that it regards females as actual human beings who can carry their own weight. Jake Lacy who plays this man, Max, has a face the immediately exudes such niceness. Donna sees it too and this is why the film never makes it forcefully dramatic by placing these two characters constantly at odds with one another. Instead, the film chooses to focus more on how they begin to understand their predicament together. It helps when their chemistry works.
Donna rides an emotional roller-coaster for the whole duration of the film, so to describe the film’s tone would be to describe this roller-coaster. This is another reason why it transcends romance and comedy because the film does not just care about the romantic relationship or any feelings that connect to such. In addition to all of that, the film cares about the moments in between, the moments where you must face an uncertain future and have no idea what in the world your next step should be. It doesn’t gloss over the loneliness Donna feels despite her fervor. That is why the camera lingers on her in tender moments. That is why those moments ultimately feel refreshingly intimate. Slate convinces us that this roller-coaster is scathingly real.
“Obvious Child” is also about a controversial subject: abortion. Yet, it is not fuming with sermonizing speeches and thinly constructed combat between the two sides of the issues. Rather, it makes a statement with its nonchalant lens, allowing Donna to make the choice. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, “How much less chaotic would these issues be if we just let people choose for themselves?” I would endorse this film with the ability to answer that question. Yes, there is ample room for justifying the possibility that the film did not go further. But, remember, the film is about Donna first and foremost and I will concede that it is not trying to attain the status of an allegorical statement of a much larger issue. Such an aspect in “Obvious Child,” is a hit-or-miss tendency, but it is certainly not the case that the film disrespects the issue. In fact, its cleverness and the aforementioned nonchalance proves to be provocative and endearing.
Alas, it is hard for me to hold back my desire for this film to have more. It is just too good to construct merely plot progressive scenes. There is one scene where Donna is in bed crying with her mom and her mom tells her a story of her wild college days. It is a great scene and it is also efficient in continuing the story. Oh, how I wanted more, though.
Because of Jenny Slate, man. She rocked.