Obvious Child

Obvious Child (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Obvious Child,” directed and based on the screenplay by Gillian Roberspierre, is a sort of miracle because even though its story can be categorized as a romantic comedy, it is written and executed in such a way that it works as a drama with a minefield of amusing situations and funny exchanges. To me, it does not hit a single false note and that is a rarity despite whatever genre a person considers this picture to belong under.

The story involves a possible abortion. A few days after having slept with a guy she met in a friend’s bar, Donna (Jenny Slate) learns that she is pregnant. She is in no condition to raise a child given that a boyfriend has recently broken up with her, still in mourning over that former relationship, and she is on the verge of losing her job at a bookstore since it has been shut down. But the picture is not interested in contemplating over a hot topic. Instead, it is used as a device to highlight the main character’s current station in life, not something that defines or will come to define her. We hear from Donna’s friend (Gaby Hoffmann) as well as Donna’s mother (Polly Draper) about their own experiences with having gone through the procedure.

Slate has a way of pinpointing the comedy in the sadness and distress from what is supposed to be funny. Already, this sets her ahead of performers who are unable to find the contradiction in their characters and build something from it. This is why when Donna skewers the details of her personal life up on stage, most of the remarks are funny but we recognize that they stem from not only awkward situations but real feelings like disappointment, regret, feeling out of one’s depth. Thus, the humor is not one note. It is sharp sometimes, raunchy at times, and just plain silly in other instances.

Jake Lacy plays Max, somewhat of a dorky guy in his mid-twenties who works for a computer company. Some actors know how to play ordinary very well—which is difficult to pull off on camera because it verges right alongside Boring Town. What Lacy does in order to mesh weel with Slate’s neurotic Donna is to play Max like a great guy friend who one can talk to about anything and there is no judgement, only open arms. It is not necessarily a question of whether he is perfect for her romantically. Instead, the question is: Will she be able to snap out of her mourning over her former flame quickly enough before Max decides to walk away and not want to be a part of her life?

I enjoyed the picture’s odder moments. The scene that leads up to a character trying out another character’s shoes quickly comes to mind. In ordinary, bland, boring comedies, such a scene would have likely ended up on the cutting room floor. Why? Because it would have been considered to be a disruption of the flow. Sometimes it is the oddities that allow films to stand out and become more accessible.

People who watch the picture and think that it is simply an “abortion movie” need to do some introspection and snap out of denial that they are so blinded by the issue—regardless of their stance—that they cannot detach themselves and recognize the humor of this specific situation. Donna is not perfect; in fact, I thought that she is irresponsible. But I liked her because I knew that she can do more with her life. She also knows it but she often gets in her own way. Don’t we all sometimes?

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