I can think of a couple films off the top of my head that end up taking this route: A woman, usually the filmâ€™s protagonist, unexpectedly finds out sheâ€™s pregnant and she seriously considers having an abortion (for about a few minutes in the film, usually). But, instead, she decides to go through with the pregnancy by the end of the film. This display of morality is supposed to make the audiences feel all warm and fuzzy inside, making us root and emotionally melt for the protagonist.Â
Having the topic of abortion in a film, especially a comedy, is a risky move simply because it's never been done before so matter-of-factly, to my knowledge at least. That was until I saw Gillian Robespierre's feature film debut "Obvious Child,"Â which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival andÂ is now playing at the Downer Theatre.
The film â€“ with the help of Robespierreâ€™s unabashed writing and directing, and an endearing and absolutely hilarious performance by Jenny Slate ("Parks & Recreation," "The Kroll Show") â€“ takes those "risky" expectations and tosses them out of the window. Even by not playing it safe, the film solidly delivers as a heartwarming comedy thatâ€™s at times raunchy and awkward in all the right and amusing ways, and at other times, sweet and genuinely thoughtful.
Slate is Donna Stern, a directionless, 20-something stand-up comic who routinely performs at a Brooklyn dive bar. Iâ€™d use "perform" lightly, because she actually just stands in front of the crowd and talks about her life; mostly about her sex life, her Jewish looks and daily panty stains. She even manages to throw in a fart joke for good measure. Talking about her sex life so openly and candidly to a room full of strangers doesnâ€™t sit well with her boyfriend, who later tells Donna in the barâ€™s unisex bathroom that heâ€™s having an affair with her best friend.
This news, of course, devastates her, leading to an all-night drinking binge inside of her tiny apartment and a mental breakdown making her appear more maniacal than anything else. Oh, and not only did her boyfriend dump her, she also loses her job at an independent bargain bookstore.
Shortly after a disastrous and drunken stand-up routine that ventures into quips about the Holocaust, Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy), a straight-laced business graduate student who looks like he doesnâ€™t belong anywhere close to the dive, hipster-friendly bar that Donna and her gay friend Joey (Gabe Liedman) frequent. Introducing herself by spitting out the hilarious and nonsensical line, "Youâ€™re really lasering into me with your pee pee missiles," Donna charms Max into getting sloppy drunk with her.
They seem like they would be polar opposites, but they click, laughing at one another after he accidentally farts in her face while they both urinate against a building and amusing each other by dancing in their underwear inside of his apartment. By the end of the night, of course, they have sex, an act that sets the rest of the film in motion when Donna unexpectedly becomes pregnant.
She realizes that having a baby at this point in her life would lead to disastrous results; she doesnâ€™t nearly have enough money to support a child, let alone that she isnâ€™t nearly as emotionally ready to go through with the pregnancy. She decides the best option would be to have an abortion â€“ on Valentineâ€™s Day of all days â€“ but withholds from telling Max while she struggles to handle the messiness of life.
"Obvious Child," which is adapted from Robespierreâ€™s 2009 short film of the same title, manages to find just the right balance of comedic and dramatic tone. Robespierre infuses the film with a heartfelt feel thatâ€™s elevated by her naturalistic sensibilities as a writer and director. As the film triggers a small shift from sweetness to seriousness in the third act, it confirms Robespierreâ€™s ability to balance the comedy with the drama with ease.
Besides effortlessly balancing the tone, Robespierre also did an exceptional job establishing Donnaâ€™s relations with the various people in her life, including her mother (Polly Draper) who wants Donna to put her SAT scores to good use, her supportive father (Richard Kind), her roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) and, of course, Max. Thereâ€™s no doubt that this is an impressively strong feature debut for a writer and director thatâ€™s going to be hard to ignore down the road.
Jenny Slateâ€™s charming and charismatic performance also elevates the film. Besides her most obvious talent of being unique and hilarious, sheâ€™s even more surprising during the quieter, dramatic moments later on in the third act.
Jake Lacy â€“ best known for his role as Pete in NBCâ€™s "The Office" â€“ is especially good as Max, a nice guy who not only pee farts, but also tries hard to forge a relationship with Donna by asking her out, amusingly oblivious to the news that is being kept from him and her weariness of taking things any further. Hoffman, who recently had a role in this past season of HBOâ€™s "Girls," is unusually normal in this as Nellie, who coaches her along. David Cross even makes a brief, creepy appearance as a fellow comedian who invites Donna over to his pad to "talk," but he has another agenda in mind.
While the film is billed as an abortion comedy, and while there are still quite a few laughs, the topic of abortion is handled with honesty and straight-forwardness. Robespierre doesnâ€™t downplay the emotional ramifications, as abortion clearly isnâ€™t a funny subject matter, even when itâ€™s a subject of a comedy. Itâ€™s also a refreshing take because she also doesnâ€™t allow the characters tip toe around it as if itâ€™s some sort of a Satanist moral taboo, like in "Knocked Up," where Jonah Hillâ€™s character couldnâ€™t even say the word aloud, instead having to attempt to improvise a rhyming word. While many films would rather shy away from it, "Obvious Child" does not.
Some will probably dislike "Obvious Child," as seen by a walkout and two older women making it known to all of those around them how much they hated it after the screening. I felt the complete opposite: I feel that it should be celebrated that "Obvious Child" exists. We need more films just like this; films that are told not only from the under-served female perspective, but also have a lot of wit, genuine heart, and the daring fearlessness to be authentic and outside of the box when dealing with a controversial subject.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Colton Dunham
Published May 2, 2015
OnMilwaukee.com recently chatted with Mike Scott before he and the rest of The Waterboys swing through Milwaukee for a show at Turner Hall on Tuesday, May 5 about the latest album "Modern Blues," the time spent recording in Nashville and what keeps him going.
Published April 30, 2015
OnMilwaukee.com recently chatted with singer-songwriter Caroline Smith before her show at Shank Hall on Friday, May 1 about her musical beginnings - including a four-hour gig at a restaurant in her hometown - her last record, her collaboration with her friend and fellow musician Lizzo, and her charity work.
Published April 22, 2015
Just recently, Netflix has made a few announcements. Marvel's "Daredevil" has thankfully been picked up for a second season, "Parks and Recreation" funnyman Aziz Ansari has a new series on the way and the "Full House" revival titled "Fuller House" is actually going to be a thing and not just a figment of TV's bad idea dream factory. If that all wasn't enough, Lena Dunham said that she wants to make a "Girls" movie ... when she's 40 years old.
Published April 15, 2015
For nearly an hour, MPS superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver spoke to an assembled crowd of early birds at YP Week's State of Education event about some of the work that's been happening as well as some of the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Published April 15, 2015
NEWaukee founder Ian Abston was joined on stage with president Angela Damiani, and over the course of nearly an hour, spoke in detail about their start, the work they've accomplished so far -- such as establishing connections, fueling the art community and changing perceptions with their popular Night Market -- and their hopes are for the city of Milwaukee in coming years.
Published April 8, 2015
Cable-cutters rejoice! HBO Now is available starting this month for free! If that doesn't make you squeal with joy, then sour your mood even more so with the news that David Lynch isn't coming back for "Twin Peaks" because of money. But, look on the bright side, there might be new episodes of "Arrested Development" coming up, and "Game of Thrones," "Veep" and "Silicon Valley" are all coming back this Sunday.
Published April 4, 2015
Over the past few days, Trevor Noah has been named as the new host of "The Daily Show" and has been ridiculed on social media for tweets he wrote. Maybe it's time for some folks to lighten up a little bit.
Published April 3, 2015
Recently, it was announced that Foxygen's current tour will be its last, with a scheduled stop in Milwaukee on Apr. 7 at Turner Hall Ballroom. Does this mean that France and Rado are calling it quits? Not necessarily so. OnMilwaukee.com got the chance to speak with Rado about Foxygen's adolescent beginnings, their album "... And Star Power," on stage antics, alter egos and their current tour.
Published March 26, 2015
A fella from New Jersey must have some extra time and some pent-up Hilton-fueled anger this week because he formed a petition on change.org to remove DJ Paris Hilton from the Summerfest lineup.
Published March 25, 2015
Why, oh why did "The Office" have to end? The series celebrated it's 10th anniversary and as I saw former cast members tweet about it, it reminded me just how much fun I had watching the series on a weekly basis for nine seasons. Before I start binging, however, there's plenty of news to share.