As well as being both unabashedly filthy and a proud and dignified representation of real humanity, OBVIOUS CHILD boasts the simple (but criminally rare in storytelling) pleasure of seeing a strong female protagonist making a difficult decision and being allowed to see it through to the end. Abortion is still a controversial issue in many arenas, and the film doesn’t claim for a moment that it’s the right decision for everyone, but it was right for Donna, and no judgement is made about her because of it. Or at least no judgement is made within the film, I’m sure Pro-Life activists will have plenty to say.
Part-time Brooklyn standup comedian Donna’s (Jenny Slate) world is rocked when her boyfriend dumps her following yet another gig that plunders her personal life for material. At least, that seems to be the excuse until it comes to light that he was having an affair with one of Donna’s friends. After her friends and family fail to lift her spirits despite their very best efforts, Donna bumps into Max (Alex Lacy) while drowning her sorrows, and the pair have a night of drunken fun. A few weeks later, Donna notices the result of her one-night-stand.
It might sound a little odd, but it really is great to see women discussing their bodily functions so openly. Men joke about smells, sounds and stains, so why can’t women? It’s a very backward and outdated – not to mention sexist – view that it’s somehow improper or unladylike to acknowledge what a fully-functioning body does, and the film revels in bringing these issues front-and-centre for comic effect. Donna’s stand-up routines rely heavily on such material, and it’s a testament to Jenny Slate’s skill as a performer that she makes such honesty so endearing, often visibly cracking up at her own jokes (understandable – they’re hilarious).
The crux of the story (aside from the pregnancy) is Donna getting over one bad relationship and trying to preserve another. She gets pregnant following a one-night stand with a lovely fella, who appreciates her chosen profession, wants to support her, and genuinely cares for her and who she is. Slate and Lacy have brilliant chemistry and you genuinely want it to work between them in the end. Gabby Hoffmann is also good as Donna’s best friend Nellie, who is the voice of reason and wisdom for the pair, and is such an open book that she gives Donna a heart-to-heart from the toilet. Donna doesn’t have as good (or straightforward) a relationship with her parents (Polly Draper and Richard Kind) as both are distant from her in different ways despite caring deeply for their only child. She does have one particularly moving key scene with her mum, where an adult woman becomes a scared little girl all over again in the arms of her mother. In a lesser film this might be where Donna has a change of heart, but Obvious a Child is not a lesser film.
I didn’t think a side-story where Donna fools around with her fellow comedian friend Sam (David Cross) worked at all. I get that we needed a scene where Donna acts like an idiot and pushes Max away to give the story jeopardy and the characters an arc, but it’s impossible to buy that she would turn down such a decent guy for such a jerk just because he’s a fellow comedian. Though usually value for money, Cross is painfully unfunny, so mirthless that he wears an awful tie-dyed string vest back at his apartment seemingly just to give us something to smile at in place of a lack of jokes.
That unnecessary scene aside, Obvious Child in consistently funny and warm, exploring a big issue in a mature, unsentimental and non-sensationalist manner. Not only will it amuse and tug on your heartstrings, it could very well restore your faith in human dignity as well. Writer-director Gillian Robespierre is a sure pair of hands and makes for a winning double-act with the sheer charisma of Jenny Slate. I look forward to seeing what they both do next immensely. SSP