Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Obvious Child


Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child is the harsh look at modern life and romantic relationships that the more ballyhooed Enough Said never had the balls to be (choosing instead to fall back on basic romcom clich├ęs). Jenny Slate stars as a struggling stand-up comedian whose recent break-up leads to a drunken hook-up with a man (Paul Briganti) she barely knows. Despite having the best night she can remember (even if she can only remember tiny pieces of it) the shamed Donna attempts to move on which becomes more difficult when she discovers she's pregnant weeks later.

What could easily have been made in an unwatchable Hollywood tripe, Robespierre steers clear of the pitfalls of the genre focusing almost entirely on Donna and her friends and family, keeping the romantic possibilities on the back burner. The movie is about Donna's reaction to a pivotal moment in her life not an excuse for pratfalls and over-the-top romantic gestures.

The script makes several smart choices including not allowing Donna to be a better comedian. Yes she's funny on the mic, but she's also wildly unstable and her free-form technique can lead to, in her own words, something that doesn't even pass for performance art. Robespierre's writing also deals with the subject of abortion in an adult manner which includes an emotionally-vulnerable Donna's frank and honest discussion with her mother (Polly Draper) that brings mother and daughter closer together than at any point in their entire relationship.

Although Donna judges herself harshly for a number of her choices, the movie never judges her more harshly than she does herself. Slate, who I've enjoyed on House of Lies as spineless Doug's wife, shines here in a role that allows her to be as goofy, depressed, pissed-off, and melancholy as she needs to be the roller-coaster that Donna's life becomes. Gaby Hoffmann is well-cast as Donna's best-friend, and although he's by far the most one-dimensional character in the film Briganti infuses Mark with an earnestness necessary for the film's final act and a low-key final scene far more effective than any of the number of grand gestures you'd expect a romcom to naturally crescendo into.

Despite the fact that we never see Donna doing much in the way of working (the handful of shots we see at the bookstore which is closing focus on her doing nothing approaching earning a paycheck), Obvious Child feels very real and lived-in. Donna's reactions from stalking her ex-boyfriend, seeking comfort from her parents, and airing her dirty laundry out in front of strangers as some kind of therapy are perhaps over-emphasized for comedic effect but the character is, from the start, painted as an overly-dramatic individual whose actions seem reasonable from her perspective. The result is a surprisingly entertaining and smart film about modern day romance that is likely to be immensely better than any romcom you going to find in theaters around Valentine's Day.

The Blu-ray includes a digital copy of the movie, a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, the 2009 short film on which the movie is based, extended scenes, and commentary from Robespierre, Slate and producer Elisabeth Holm (who co-wrote the original short with Robespierre).

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