It’s about time that Jenny Slate got a movie. After a short stint on Saturday Night Live when they were chewing through and spitting out young female comedians with their own voices (see also: Casey Wilson), she’s participated in a bunch of other projects, including the fantastic viral short Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. She also played the lead in another short film by writer/director Gillian Robespierre, which made its own splash on the festival circuit. It picked up the attention of a producer, and now we have the feature-length version of Obvious Child, a sweet, smart romantic comedy that, yes, happens to involve an abortion.
Donna (Slate) is an aspiring stand-up comedian in Brooklyn when everything goes wrong. Her boyfriend dumps her right before she finds out that the bookstore she works at is closing. She gets drunk and delivers one of the most awkward comedy sets ever, barfing out her troubles to an audience of strangers, but that’s just the beginning of the questionable decisions. She meets the buttoned-down Max (Jake Lacy), her diametric opposite in temperament, straight from small-town Vermont to an office job in Manhattan. And of course they have a drunken one-night stand.
A few weeks later of course she’s pregnant. Once she confirms it at Planned Parenthood, she knows she’s going to terminate the pregnancy because even at her best she’s not remotely ready to be a mother. It’s still pretty early, so she’s got to wait a couple weeks before they can perform the procedure, scheduled for Valentine’s Day. But there’s never really a question that she’s going to go through with it — none of the usual “will she or won’t she” and heavy moralism that we get even from movies that fall on the pro-choice end of the spectrum. Because this is not really an “abortion movie”; it’s a romantic comedy at heart, and the question is whether or not she’ll manage to talk to Max, complicated by worries about how he’ll take the news.
Slate is wonderfully natural and funny, with an artsy Brooklyn neuroticism akin to Hannah Horvath’s in Girls, but without ever quite collapsing into the self-destructive navel-gazing Lena Dunham uses that character to explore. Lacy is a perfect straight man, with his own wonderful sense of comedic timing. Donna yanks the normally-grounded Max out of his comfort zone, and Lacy finds layers and layers of texture in his reactions.
And then there’s Donna’s whole support system. Her best friends Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) and Joey (Kroll Show writer Gabe Liedman) play off of Donna nicely, and it’s such a relief to see Hoffman played for anything but a cheap laugh at how weird she’s willing to be. Donna’s parents (Polly Draper and Richard Kind) fill in a lot about Donna herself, and nicely invert the standard serious-father/wacky-mother stereotypes.
I totally understand that marketing is what it is. You’ve got to sell a movie based on what sets it apart, and if that’s the fact that it treats abortion as anything less than radioactive, so be it. But there’s so much more about the experience of young women packed into these 83 hilarious minutes. Obvious Child is charming and honest and funny, and the way it handles the fact of reproductive choice is just one part of what it really gets right: treating its female characters as fully-realized, independent human beings.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass, and what a pass.