Director: Gillian Robespierre
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross
Abortion is generally considered to be a subject that film-makers should run away from, or so it would appear from the weak efforts to broach the matter in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up or Diablo Cody’s Juno. Gillian Robespierre’s debut feature (a wonderfully fleshed out version of her 2009 short film) is pro-choice for real and takes its subject matter to both poignant and hilarious heights.
Donna Stern (Slate) is a stand-up comic who after losing her job at a Brooklyn bookstore and being dumped by her boyfriend ends up having a one-night stand with small-town sweetie, Max (Lacy) that (to abide by a two-week waiting period ) results in her being scheduled to have an abortion on Valentine’s Day. One of the plot’s strongest points is in the fact that the decision to have the procedure is never really in question, instead Donna’s conflict lies in facing growing up and whether she should inform Max of the upshot of ‘seeing a condom’ but not knowing ‘exactly what it did’ in their drunken hook-up.
Jenny Slate is the life force of this picture through and through, taking Robespierre’s script that is irreverent and endearing in equal measure, and running with it. A brilliant comic herself in real-life, Slate has been making small-screen, stand-out performances for several years now (a particular favourite being her portrayal of Jean-Ralphio’s sister, Mona-Lisa, in Parks and Recreation) and brings the same imitable energy – as well as some very affecting tender and earnest moments – to this role which can only lead to a whole host of other projects that should be anticipated eagerly.
Alongside Slate, the films boasts a fantastic supporting cast: The Office’s Jake Lacy manages to be much more than simply the doofus WASP character that he appears to be at first sight, and the semi-awkward rapport between himself and Slate moves beyond previous indie-comedy attempts to provide a very pleasing authenticity. Girls’ Gaby Hoffmann is well cast as Nellie, Donna’s abrasive feminist roommate, and gels extremely well with Gabe Liedman (Slate’s longtime comedy partner – you should have a look at their web-series Bestie X Bestie as soon as you possibly can) who plays Donna’s gay best friend Joey. Liedman makes the role very much his own, subverting the cliches of rom-com which the rest of the film also generally achieves.
Other notable turns include Donna’s separated parents played by stalwart scene-stealers, Polly Draper and Richard Kind who approach their daughter with contrasting brands of love, subtly creating some of the film’s most memorable scenes. A small appearance by Arrested Development’s David Cross delivers some solid laughs as a lecherous fellow comedian but the minuscule side-plot feels a tad tacked-on and may have simply been an excuse to get Cross involved, which in fairness is always welcome.
Far from being defined by its ‘issues’ – despite being banded around the media as “The Abortion Comedy”- Obvious Child is a great film with a sharp script that will not disappoint. The stand-up may not be to everyone’s taste but Slate’s style is instantly likeable and relatable for those who are looking for it. Coming in at just under an hour and a half, it is a little short in length, but in that time Robespierre covers a lot of ground and breaks a lot of it too. Above all, the film simply portrays a refreshingly honest image of a young woman’s life. Ironically, seeing it is not a choice.