Meet the rom-com star you didn't know you were waiting for.
By Max Weiss. Posted on June 25, 2014, 11:31 am
Obvious Child feels like the pilot for an HBO series that I would totally binge watch.
In some ways, it conforms to the conventional beats of a romantic comedy, in others, it’s thrillingly (and fearlessly) original.
It starts with the film’s star, Jenny Slate, who is the rom-com heroine of the Girls/Broad City/Inside Amy Schumer generation. A standup comedian in the film (and life), she is profane, confessional, hilarious, and utterly fearless on stage. She essentially has a glass head, much to the dismay of her boyfriend, who’s in the audience while she’s extoling the virtues of their rote, if efficiently satisfying sex life. Shortly after the performance, he admits that he’s cheating on her with one of her good friends and they break up.
Jenny, named Donna in the film, goes into a total tailspin but luckily, has an amazing support system of friends (perfect for the HBO series!). There’s her number one drinking buddy (Gabe Liedman), a standup comic who’s gay; and her fiercely loyal girlfriend (Gaby Hoffman), who gives Donna exactly what she needs when she’s mourning the betrayal (“They’re sociopaths!” she hisses). We also meet Donna’s parents, her menschy, if a bit hennish father (Richard Kind) and her brilliant, slightly less nurturing mother (Polly Draper).
One thing I liked about the film was its ability to evoke genuine emotion in the midst of these familiar tropes. When Donna stands shaking outside her ex-boyfriend’s townhouse, making bargains with herself (“I’ll take three sips of this coffee and leave if he doesn’t come out”), it’s utterly believable and sweetly sad.
Then she meets the inevitable new guy (Jake Lacy)—and he’s this dorky-cute Midwestern fellow in deck shoes who responds with deadpan amusement to her garrulousness. They hook up, in a scene that I found a bit too sitcommy (it’s a montage where they’re kissing and dancing and laughing to Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child”) and, yup, she gets pregnant.
That’s where the film gets fearless, because Donna matter-of-factly decides she’s getting an abortion. In a way, Obvious Child is almost post-pro-choice, if such a thing is possible. It treats abortion as Donna’s clear choice, but it also takes her choice seriously. She cries at Planned Parenthood, when the procedure is being done and later, sits, somewhat dazed in a recovery room, with similarly shell-shocked young women, one who is noticeably wearing a wedding band.
The abortion is the thing that is getting the most attention about Obvious Child, but what will linger for me is the adorableness of Jenny Slate. She’s the rom-com star I didn’t know I was waiting for. HBO, you know what to do.
Obvious Child opens Friday, June 27 in Baltimore.
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.