For aspiring comedian Donna Stern, everyday life as a female twenty-something provides ample material for her relatable brand of humor. On stage, Donna is unapologetically herself, joking about topics as intimate as her sex life and as crude as her day-old underwear. But when Donna winds up unexpectedly pregnant after a one-night stand, she is forced to face the uncomfortable realities of independent womanhood for the first time. Donna's drunken hookup - and epic lapse in prophylactic judgment - turns out to be the beginning of an unplanned journey of self-discovery and empowerment.Written by
Jenny Slate plays a twenty-eight-year-old by the name of Donna Stern in Obvious Child, who makes a living working in a bookstore and performing irregularly at some of Brooklyn's seediest comedian clubs. Her humor reminds of Sarah Silverman, as its punchline, regardless of the joke, is that a woman can be just as crass and dirty as a male comedian can. The problem is it results in little that is actually funny and more of Slate, and writer/director Gillian Robespierre, pushing the envelope and seeing how far they can go with their jokes in order to achieve something that is allegedly funny. It's not that Slate isn't a gifted performer - she's sly and has mastered the art of being able to throw herself in a plethora of different situations and remaining believable throughout all of them - but that consistently tries to be funny by using excessive vulgarity and sexually-explicit scenarios that are ineffective and lifeless.
Obvious Child, however, is more than just my brief summation; it's actually a millennial romantic comedy with a shockingly nonchalant and comedic look at abortion. Donna winds up being dumped by her longtime boyfriend, who finds their relationship stagnant and her jokes about their love-life quietly offensive, as he hopes to turn over a new leaf with the woman he has been cheating on Donna with. On top of that, she loses her job and gets pregnant by sweet and well-meaning Max (Jake Lacy), whom she had a one-night-stand with in light of her breakup. With this, Donna, a free-spirit and a fly-by- the-seat-of-her-pants woman, is forced to seriously contemplate single motherhood in a way she never had to before. She schedules an abortion and, ironically, gets scheduled for February 14th, further plunging her into a realm of contemplation she never foresaw herself entering.
Obvious Child plays a lot like Lena Dunham's directorial debut Tiny Furniture, but doesn't find itself as incessantly artificial as it. The film is corrupted because it takes the annoying traits of its characters and makes a film that functions like one of them, as well, including being mixed with frustrating conversations that reveal nothing about the characters, dodging and weaving through motivations and internal-thoughts of the characters, empty attempts to humanize these people outside of the quintessential idea of a liberal millennial caricature, and making every other character in the film besides Donna a faceless soul.
What results is a film that lacks any form of engagement to the audience. A film where abortion is taken in a simultaneously comedic but contemplative light is ripe for a wealth of intriguing commentary (Juno toyed with the concept and did a fairly nice job), but Obvious Child exercises the idea in a way that I find indistinguishable. I cannot tell if I'm supposed to sympathize with Donna, or scoff at the way she can write off big life decisions or simplify their significance.
This is the same issue I took with the aforementioned Tiny Furniture; I'm unable to tell if I'm supposed to recognize that the world created in that film was artificial or regard it as an accurate depiction of contemporary Brooklynites. Was I supposed to be inherently detached from the main characters of the film or was I supposed to try and form some sort of connection to them as their asinine lives unfolded. While Obvious Child at least finds itself with an idea it wants to execute - the comedic or, at very least, light-hearted portrayal of abortion - despite not finding an adequately funny or thoughtful way to explore it. For a film proclaiming a character in it to be "obvious," I strangely found the film to be anything but.
Starring: Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy. Directed by: Gillian Robespierre.
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