Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre (debut)
Written by: Gillian Robespierre (debut)
As far as dark comedies are concerned, there have been plenty through the years that have pushed the envelope and dared audiences to laugh at things that wouldn’t necessarily be considered funny by most sane people if put into real-world context. Think of the suicide pact in 1988’s “Heathers” or the rape scene in 2010’s “Super” or the brutal violence in 2011’s “God Bless America” or the way director Todd Solondz handles the topic of child sexual abuse in his 1994 film “Happiness.” In part, audiences laugh at these scenarios because most of the characters in dark comedies like these have such an exaggerated nature to them, we feel detached enough to enjoy them for their entertainment value (as sadistic as that may sound to anyone who only watches 1930s musicals and Kirk Cameron films).
The same cannot be said about the dark comedy “Obvious Child.” Labeled by some as an “abortion comedy,” the independent film is embedded in reality so convincingly, you might wonder how many of your own friends have found themselves having to make a similar decision as the movie’s main character. Despite its true-to-life makeup , “Obvious Child” doesn’t suffer on a comedic level in any shape or form. If anything, being able to identify with those involved only makes things more endearing and hilarious.
In “Obvious Child,” actress Jenny Slate (TV’s “Parks & Recreation”) stars as Donna Stern, an aspiring and underachieving stand-up comedian from Brooklyn who has to grow up rather quickly when she gets dumped, loses her job and finds out she is pregnant after having sex with a nice stranger (Jake Lacy) she meets at a bar. Donna is not a delicate kind of girl, so facing all these new challenges alone seems like a walk in the park for her until it’s not. We get to know Donna as a person before the pregnancy becomes part of her story, so when she decides she wants to have an abortion, we are invested in that decision with her.
Most of the film follows Donna during the waiting period before she has the procedure scheduled. Slate is incredible in the role and reminiscent of the kind of effortless work actress Greta Gerwig put out in the wonderful female-centric comedy “Frances Ha.” Both characters exude this vulnerability and somberness, but also leave room for their characters to enjoy life and all the curveballs it throws. First time writer/director Gillian Robespierre has cleverly brought to the forefront an issue people are still afraid to talk about on both sides of the aisle and turns Donna’s “emotional crisis” into an opportunity for personal growth.
“Obvious Child” is so much more than an “abortion comedy” much like “Brokeback Mountain” was so much more than a movie about “gay cowboys.” There are plenty of uncomfortable scenes Donna must maneuver her way through, but with Slate taking full control of her as a three-dimensional character, every ounce of her personality rings true. Ignore the politics behind the issue and, instead, admire what Slate and Robespierre have done to liberate this taboo topic much like director Alexander Payne did with “Citizen Ruth” 18 years ago.