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Obvious Child - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published September 21st 2014
A comedy about underplanning and oversharing
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman

Hot on the heels of Frances Ha and In A World comes another winning American indie comedy about a smart, creative woman awkwardly finding her unique voice amid the noise of a big city. And like those films, Obvious Child heralds the rise of a bright comic actor, in this instance Jenny Slate.

Some credit has to be given to Lena Dunham's Girls for the growing presence of women at the centre of American independent films. The characters in Obvious Child could easily be neighbourhood friends of Hannah, Shoshanna and co, and in fact two of the film's stars, Slate and Gaby Hoffman, have appeared in Girls.

obvious child jenny slate
Jenny Slate as potty-mouth comedian Donna Stern

The film is an expansion on writer/director Gillian Robespierre's 2009 short of the same name. The story centres on Donna Stern (Slate) a small-time stand-up comedian whose repartee is basically just a commentary of her own life, which is itself a series of small failures and disasters. She shows a surprising lack of self-censorship when it comes to telling a bar full of people about her bodily functions or the personal details of friends and family. Such public confessionals don't sit well with her boyfriend who promptly dumps her for another woman. Naturally this becomes the centrepiece of ensuing stand-up routines.

While wallowing in alcohol soaked post break-up despair, Donna hooks up with preppy Max (Jake Lacy) who's quite taken with her sharp wit and self-deprecation. The two hit it off surprisingly well, but after a dream night together, Donna slinks away with no intention of seeing Max again. Only problem is Donna becomes pregnant, and with Max being the obvious father, she struggles with the choices in front of her. Will she have the baby? Will she tell Max? Does she even want to see Max again? Is there any chance this isn't going to turn into an incredibly inappropriate and uncomfortable stand-up performance?

obvious child jenny slate

It's pretty clear from early on that any number of taboos are going to be confronted in Obvious Child, from abortion to all sorts of gynecological phenomenon. Rather than coming across as cheap and sensationalist though, if feels very raw and honest.

Jenny Slate is a revelation as Donna. It's easy to assume that she's probably a professional comedian in real life (though she isn't). She's effortlessly funny, poignant and brazen all at once. Together with Jake Lacy they are a mismatch made in heaven.

The combo of edgy humour, engaging characters and sharp subversions on traditional romantic comedy tropes makes this a real crowd-pleaser. Recently the film polled 2nd in the MIFF People's Choice Awards behind Boyhood. The screening I went to got the loudest ovation I heard all festival.

Obvious Child may not seem like a natural big screen experience, but being in a cinema full of laughing punters is the best way to see this.

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