By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
I have to say that this is one of the more difficult reviews I have written, and perhaps have yet to write. The controversial subject matter of the film, along with my personal beliefs on said material must be set aside to objectively critique the film. Writer/director Gillian Robespierre obviously wants to send a message regarding unwanted pregnancies and the option of abortion. That much is clear, but at the same time, she and co-writer Karen Maine do attempt to present a complete and dimensional portrait of an artist in an already difficult time in her life, and the way she discovers her inner strength to cope with all of these recent challenges in her life. The result is a charming and sometimes heartwarming film starring a truly lovable lead actress in comedian Jenny Slate. Obvious Child obviously will not appeal to all audiences, especially those with strong, unwavering anti-abortion beliefs, but those caught in the middle and on the far left will probably find some enjoyment in this daring and bold romantic comedy.
Slate stars as Donna Stern, a struggling stand-up comedian who not only gets dumped by her boyfriend, but also loses her day job at a bookstore. Flustered and miserable, Donna seeks comfort in a one-night stand with the slightly awkward, but amiable Max (Jake Lacy). This night of vulnerability makes matters even worse, as Donna discovers that she has become pregnant. Donna faces a most difficult decision and must find the strength to pull herself together and get her life back in order, which also includes facing Max and telling him the whole truth.
Considering the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Robespiere, Maine and Slate handle it rather delicately and tastefully. Well, I suppose Slate handles it as tastefully as an unfiltered comedian can. I will be honest that I do not totally agree with some of the messages this film sends, but that’s enough about my stand on the issue. This review is not about my beliefs, but my opinion of the quality of the writing, directing, etc. Robespiere directs ably and she and Maine do a fine job of telling a realistic story with solid character development. The fact that they can incorporate humor and a love story within what could have been a dark and depressing film says a lot.
That said, as much as I like Jenny Slate and her character Donna, not all of the humor hits. I have never actually seen Slate perform stand-up prior to seeing this movie, but not all of her scenes on stage in the movie deliver hearty laughs. She has an awkward and sometimes uncomfortably unfiltered style, but I do applaud her bravery for delivering this style of humor that seems to be geared more for women. Aside from her comedy routines, I feel that Slate does have talent as an actress and does some fine work juggling both the drama and comedy in the film. I’d love to see her in future films, even of the strictly dramatic variety.
Actor Jake Lacy offers a strong and charismatic performance as love interest Max. Lacy makes a great leading man, and he too deserves roles in various genres of film. Other appealing cast members include Gabby Hoffman, who plays Donna’s best friend Nellie, Gabe Liedman, who portrays good friend and fellow comedian Joey, Richard Kind, who stars as Donna’s father, and Polly Draper who is her mother. Comic actor David Cross makes a cameo appearance as comedian Sam, and does well portraying an awkwardly inappropriate and uncouth suitor, but the material he’s given is limited and not all that funny.
This movie too has its limitations and issues, but I do have some admiration for the filmmakers and stars, considering that it courageously tackles a subject riddled with controversy and passionate opinions on both sides. People vehemently opposed to abortion are better off staying away from this movie, but people a bit more open-minded will probably enjoy the story and its main characters. This is one of two romantic comedies opening in theaters this weekend, but this one actually has something different and interesting to offer audiences.