Movie review

Comedy 'Obvious Child' handles serious topic in glib fashion

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“Obvious Child” is as single-minded about a woman’s right to choose an abortion as the Vanessa Hudgens movie “Gimme Shelter” was about an unwed teen’‍s decision to have her baby, against her parents’‍ advice.

'Obvious Child'

Starring: Jerry Slate, Gaby Hoffmann, Jake Lacy, Polly Draper, Richard Kind.

Rating: R for language and sexual content..

The comedy “Obvious Child,” written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, can be glib in an off-putting way. Take how aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) reacts when she goes to a Planned Parenthood clinic and confirms she is pregnant.

When the medical staffer says, “Let’s talk about your options,” Donna immediately chirps, “I would like an abortion, please.” She then acknowledges that she sounded as if she were ordering at a drive-through but no one in the movie ever has a real conversation — measured, angry or hysterical —  about the options. Every person is sympathetic, from start to finish.

Donna’‍s decision isn’‍t the deal breaker here, it’‍s her willingness to overshare with a Brooklyn club audience when she hasn’‍t told the man responsible for the pregnancy. That is a scene sorely missing, although the script gives time to Donna’s supportive friend (Gaby Hoffmann), who launches into a tirade about living in a patriarchal society where men make the rules governing women’‍s bodies. 

“Obvious Child” opens with Donna riffing on her personal hygiene and life, including with her boyfriend, who turns out to be a cad. When she gets off stage, he confesses to cheating and breaks up with her in a crowded coed bathroom where the walls are defaced with graffiti. Classy. 

If that weren’‍t bad news enough, her mother thinks she’‍s wasting her intelligence. Donna is losing her daytime job, and, as usual, she airs her unhappiness on stage by announcing of her ex- and his new girlfriend, “I would love to just murder-suicide them.” She meets a sincere New Englander, Max (Jake Lacy), who is very much not her usual type, and a drunken, dizzying night ends in a way neither anticipates. 

“Obvious Child,” which uses the Paul Simon song of the same name to giddy effect, started as a well-received short. The filmmaker then raised money on Kickstarter to expand it into a feature that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was picked up for distribution.

The comedy boasts familiar faces in Polly Draper and Richard Kind as Donna’s divorced parents, and some moviegoers might remember Ms. Slate from the 2009-10 season on “Saturday Night Live” or know her from “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me” children’‍s book inspired by Web shorts. 

It’‍s been more than four decades since Bea Arthur’s “Maude” had television’‍s first abortion in November 1972 and while the subject is no longer taboo, it’s far more common for comedies to milk unplanned pregnancies leading to childbirth, as “Knocked Up” proved. Even if you find the stand-up material too R-rated or just unfunny, as I did, Ms. Slate pulls off drunk-dialing, wine-fueled apologies, a little light stalking and moments when Donna lets her guard down. 

Ms. Robespierre apparently chafes at “Obvious Child” being called the abortion comedy. She’‍s right in that it’‍s about much more, such as what constitutes maturity in your 20s, living in New York vs. LA, comedy that’s unapologetically personal, and comfort from parents and friends, but sometimes you cannot escape the obvious.

Opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront and the Manor in Squirrel Hill.  


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632.

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