Move over, Knocked Up. Obvious Child just replaced you as the funniest movie to date to deal with the theme of unexpected pregnancy. Shockingly honest and heart-warming as well, Obvious Child may be the surprise romantic comedy of the year.
Although many rom-coms have focused their stories on unexpected pregnancies — in addition to Knocked Up, there's She's Having a Baby, Nine Months, Juno, the list goes on — Obvious Child stands out from this subgenre of subgenres in large part due to its edgy script. In many ways, Obvious Child marks the feminist version of such films, with its focus on an intelligent, sassy female protagonist and the decision she makes regarding her pregnancy.
Jenny Slate, whom you may recognize from a small part in Parks and Recreation and one season of SNL (she was fired after accidentally cursing during a live broadcast), stars as the witty and self-deprecatingly charming Donna Stern, an underemployed late 20-something with a high IQ and low ambition. She moonlights as a stand-up comedian, spending her evenings in comedy clubs telling confessional jokes about private matters — her underwear, bodily functions, breakups. After her boyfriend dumps her in a particularly nasty way, Donna, emotional and tipsy, has a one-night stand. A few weeks later, she discovers she is pregnant. Eventually she has an abortion.
Since Obvious Child's debut at Sundance earlier this year, it's been hailed as one of the best independent films of the year. It treats the subject of pregnancy and abortion with a frankness rarely — if ever — seen onscreen. Most Hollywood movies treat pregnancy as having one possible outcome: a baby. In the rare case when a woman does choose abortion, it's depicted as horrific, and the female is "punished" for her bad behavior/bad decision, (see: Dirty Dancing). Obvious Child is different. Although Donna's situation undoubtedly causes her stress, she doesn't particularly suffer over the decision to abort her pregnancy, nor does she suffer regret afterward. Leaving behind the "whether to have the baby or not" issue, the story, instead, charts Donna's crisis and the new beginning to which she emerges.
Slate shines in this film, carrying the starring role with aplomb, but it is the stand-up comedy sequences that really showcase her talent, particularly in one scene when she pokes fun at her Jewish heritage. "Who here just saw my face and thought that they were at a bagel store in a synagogue? ... Who stared at my face and thought that a menorah fucked Natalie Imbruglia?" The comedian giggles after this series of jokes, and it's hard to tell where Slate the actress ends and the character of Donna begins. Take one part Mindy Kaling, Amy Sedaris, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Amy Winehouse, and you've got Jenny Slate — a petite, charming, irreverent, potty-mouthed, hilarious, witty brunette whose exuberance sometimes yields to depression.
The rest of the cast, including Jake Lacy (The Office) as Donna's genuinely nice one-night stand and veteran actors Gaby Hoffmann, Richard Kind, and Polly Draper, serve up strong performances. David Cross also appears as a creepy comedian in the club where Donna does stand up, although the performance, like his role, is not particularly compelling.
Undoubtedly, this film will offend some — even my liberal views were tested. With a support network that most of us can only long for, including a roommate who behaves like a doting older sister and intelligent, hip, attentive parents, Donna seemed, to me, to be extremely well-situated to deal with an unexpected baby. I couldn't help but think that she would get along just fine if she had it.
But perhaps that is what makes Obvious Child so radical. It presents Donna's decision as a fine one and leaves us thinking not so much about her choice, but about Hollywood's long-standing conservatism in regards to this issue.
Obvious Child screens at Park Circle Film Society (4820 Jenkins Ave., North Charleston) at 7 p.m. on Sat. Oct. 18. For tickets and more info, go to parkcirclefilms.org.