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Review: Jenny Slate takes center stage in ‘Obvious Child’

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Obvious Child

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Obvious Child is a film that has enjoyed plenty of buzz, but has also been slapped with the seemingly irrevocable label of “the abortion comedy.” Moviegoers who watch the film from first-time feature director Gillian Robespierre, which hits theaters June 20, will find that there is much more to the story. Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a twenty-something aspiring comedienne who, like so many people her age, is knee-deep in the trials and tribulations that come with adulthood.

In the wake of a betrayal by her best friend and long-time boyfriend and the looming evaporation of her source of steady income and a subsequent drunken evening with a charming and handsome stranger, Donna finds herself confronted with an unplanned pregnancy. Films that traditionally tread on this path end up bogged down in “will she or won’t she.” This isn’t the focus of Obvious Child, rather the pregnancy and abortion elements are merely part of Donna’s life as we meet her.

Robespierre, who expanded the feature from the short (that also starred Slate) of the same name she made with Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm, has said that the goal of Obvious Child was to make a romantic comedy with someone who felt real and recognizable at the center––to take the traditional “best friend” character who gets all the great jokes and tell her story. In that aim, they handily deliver.

Slate commands attention as Donna. Hers is a dynamic, rounded character, who, though she makes much more amusing jokes than most people, is nonetheless reminiscent of someone real and tangible. The film is not wholly comedic, nor wholly serious, but rather, rings with the tone of life. We watch Donna at her best, up on stage captivating a crowd, and at her worst, vulnerable and scared, and driven, crying back into her mother’s arms like a child.

Nothing about Obvious Child is obvious, it’s honest and fresh, with a vulnerable, star-making turn from Jenny Slate and the arrival of an exciting new cinematic voice in the form of Gillian Robespierre.

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