Who knew a film about abortion could be so funny? Fired from Saturday Night Live after only one season (2009-2010), comedian Jenny Slate went on to find a good deal of success in the entertainment business, but never the kind that raised her to household name recognition. While the content of the romantic comedy, Obvious Child (opening today), will most likely keep it from finding any real mainstream success, it acts as a showcase for Jenny Slate not only as a comic, but as an actress. Remember her name.
Slate plays Donna Stern, a twenty-something stand-up comic struggling to make ends meet or make any real connections. Like fellow comic Mike Birbiglia's 2012 film, Sleepwalk With Me, Obvious Child is one-part relationship comedy and one-part profile of the inner hell that is the stand-up comedy world. Tortured souls and severe emotional problems seem marks of the very best comedians, who on a daily basis for usually little money or a few free drinks, bare their lives in front of audience members waiting to be entertained and who can generally care less, in dank, scuzzy bars and nightclubs across America.
Like Birbiglia's character, whose case of severe sleepwalking was a result of these emotional hurdles, Slate's Donna has issues of her own. She is a brash, blunt on-stage personality who discusses topics like pooping, farting and the hardships of wearing panties. Her opening on-stage monologue in the film is hilarious yet somewhat shock-inducing, and should act as a barometer of if her dirty, in-your-face humor is your cup of tea.
Slate makes Donna a likeable character, but one that we clearly see is not OK. In the hands of a less talented actress, her shock-com would come off as Lisa Lampanelli abrasive. Instead, Slate makes us feel like we want to give Donna a hug.
Soon after meeting Donna, she is dumped and loses her job. Rock-bottom just got lower. That's when a seemingly great guy, Max (Jake Lacy), walks into her life. She isn't equipped to handle it but after a drunken night together, Donna is dealt a new set of problems: She's pregnant.
This material is handled extremely crafty by first-time filmmaker, Gillian Robespierre. She gives Slate a long leash to be daring and funny, yet centers the film on the character, not the actions of the character...a big difference. Most other films that try tackling topics like abortion would try to show both sides and the the potential consequences of each choice that is made. For Donna, it is never even a question what needs to be done. And although Donna chooses to get an abortion, this is not the central crux of the film.
Max stays around, but not in the usual way. Donna continues on her path of self-destruction, a sharp-tongued tornado who seems to be teetering on the edge of sanity. Her parents (Richard Kind, Polly Draper) are in her life and act as a safe place for her to turn to, but they offer little in the way of real help.
Most anti-abortionists will be appalled at how the film handles the topic, with a breezy brush-over feel to it. Pro-choicers will probably point out that the "obvious child" in the film is Donna, an adolescent trapped in a woman's body, who can barely take care of herself let alone another individual and who is ultimately making the "responsible" decision here.
In a film full of bad decisions and heavy issues like abortion and alcoholism, you'll be surprised to learn that Obvious Child is also an extremely funny film. Jenny Slate is a confident and fearless comedian who should catapult into the Hollywood stratosphere. If you can stomach her brand of comedy.
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, David Cross, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, Polly Draper
Co-Written & Directed by Gillian Robespierre (feature film directorial debut)
Opens locally on Friday, June 27, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time