Review: (Not So) Obvious Child

Obvious-Child.jpg

People are going to argue with me, but Jenny Slate’s character on NBC’s Parks and Recreation has a lot in common with her character in Obvious Child. Both are crass and outspoken. Both laugh at the wrong times and about the wrong things. Both joke like 12-year-old boys. The primary difference is Donna Stark, Slate’s moonlighting standup comedienne in Obvious Child, is dangerously vulnerable. It’s a trait writer/director Gillian Robespierre makes clear in a thousand ways, but it’s sometimes hard to make out alongside her overbearing brassiness.

Donna just lost her job at an absurdly niche bookstore and another girl swiped her boyfriend. Her creative outlet—talking about everything from primal fear to vaginal discharge on stage—doesn’t pay, but it does define her. So when she has rebound sex with a guy who’s not her type and ends up pregnant, she’s saddled with adulthood and abortion anxiety at once. Those cathartic comic routines are about to get uglier.

The guy, Max (Jake Lacy) is adorable but vanilla. Donna’s mom is a Columbia business professor and her father’s a puppeteer. What’s she doing with a guy who went to elementary school in a Vermont Farmhouse? (Her response to that information, by the way, was “Is that a lie?”) Yet part of her anxiety, and her comfort zone, is the expectation that people suck, so while she maintains two very close friends (one brilliantly played by Gaby Hoffman) her demonstrations of vulnerability onstage mask an inability in the rest of her life. I make all these observations, but few audiences are going to muddle through the basic, and beautifully cultivated psychology in Obvious Child. What they really want to talk about is the abortion.

Obvious Child is the pro-choice film everyone confused Juno for in 2007, when that came out and Ellen Page was the poster girl for tenacious teens. But Obvious Child is actually the anti-Juno. Marred with maturity issues, steeped in frankness and comprehensively uninterested in its own cleverness, Obvious Child is giving its audience a lot to chew on. And this is not a straightforwardly positive thing. We are talking about abortion after all.

The dichotomy of Donna onstage—swinging from defenseless to disgusting—often complicates the parts of the film where we see her living with friends, hearing abortion stories (and every woman in this film has one) and palpitating over whether or not to tell Max she's pregnant. In other climates, this would be an issue film; instead it’s a movie about a woman who survives a trauma, but the fact the traumatized girl works out her issues crassly, onstage and with a serious potty mouth, makes a very precious problem look like it’s being laughed off. If you see disregard or irresponsibility when you watch Obvious Child, you’re not looking hard enough. Writer/Director Robespierre trusts you to see that performance is a flimsy veil.

When the stunningly neutral doctor at Planned Parenthood tells Donna she’s pregnant, Donna trembles with tears streaming. Violins aren’t swelling, and that is a much better thing.

Sara Vizcarrondo's Latest Blog Entries:

Production for The Two Faces of January began in Athens in August of 2012 and the first day was a major event. Director Hussein Amini planned to stage the...
With a cue from Mike Figgis and the digital revolution (oh, the handheld video and the synth tracks), South Korean provocateur Kim Ki-Duk has returned to his...
Last month, writer/director Paul Mazursky passed away and in honor of the late filmmaker the Landmark Theatre’s Anniversary Classic Series will screen Mazursky...
Around the Block is an Aussie Dangerous Minds with a smarter tack on the racial divide. Then again, maybe it looks that way because it’s easier to see racism...
A horror with threads of gross out comedy, Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero knows very well it’s cheap but loves itself anyway. After Josh (Brandon Eaton) has a...

More Obvious Child News

Comments