Laughing at ourselves is a skill, even when the underlying cause is a touchy one. Gillian Robespierre’s completed funny and frankly witted ‘Obvious Child’ is a not-yet-thirty woman’s look at facing life’s hits and misses, with this particular miss being an unwanted pregnancy. The brilliance behind this film is that although the topic of abortion is decisively hovering, that’s not what the film is about. The success here is that the film hones into the main character Donna’s (Jenny Slate) relationship with herself during all of her unforgiving wrong turns and redemptions.
What do you get when you cross a dumped stand-up comedian bookshop girl with a positive pregnancy test? Donna Stern. An off night with the breakup blues on her usual Brooklyn stage costs Donna more than sanity when she gets drunk and goes home with the fresh pressed gentleman Max (Jake Lacy), a.k.a. “pee-farter.” Weeks later she finds herself realizing, hands to sore breasts and to the audience of her best friend Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) and a dressing room mirror, that she is pregnant. She then decides to get an abortion. Not knowing if and how to tell Max, she both charms and offends him in a series of awkward and ironic encounters that seem to be telling her that Max might not be meant to disappear from the situation, hence arriving at a messy modern rom-com. And soon to be let go by not just boy, but also bookstore, Donna tries dealing with her “emotional crisis” practically, usually failing to be confident in any right answers.
The clear strengths of the film are Jenny Slate’s performance and the principles of the character she plays. In the words of Nellie, Donna is “unapologetically herself,” far beyond the stage. The film doesn’t beg the questions, will she keep the baby? Will she change her mind? You understand her stance and move on. The story becomes about Donna entirely as she emotionally drives through the storm, while of course making the funnies (diarrhea jokes welcome). Very different from Max, she treads both hesitantly and strongly and without a lot of tact, from rejecting dinner with him while sitting in an empty cardboard box to making poop jokes in her mom’s orange crocs. But entirely endearing, you can’t keep from supporting the helpless Jewish girl who just wants to be happy, make people laugh, drink wine, and make rent.
With sharp writing that’s fit for our time, both clever as hell and unsophisticated in a perfect way, you’re entertained throughout despite some turns in Donna’s circumstances being a little too lucky. The film also adds to the great cast Richard Kind and Polly Draper as the divorced parents where mom is a professor and dad makes spaghetti and puppets, Gabe Liebman as Donna’s main gay, and ‘Arrested Development’s’ David Cross as the can’t-get-over-Donna co-comedian. ‘Obvious Child’ makes you think about the other side of the dilemma coin. What about the woman deciding not to be a parent in that moment? How does the rest her life go? Well, Donna’s is worth the witness, giggles guaranteed.