Obvious Child (2014)
Editor’s Note: Obvious Child opens in limited theatrical release this Friday, June 6th.
Romantic comedies are so often associated with mediocrity. They live as bastions of unrealistic expectations, grandiose gestures that beguile reasonability, and a general sense of the artificial. They are not enjoyable because of their proximity to our own lives, but for their escapist sensibilities. Of course the very nature of genre tropes are dismissive generalities that trivialize the films within their category. Obvious Child possesses the aura of your typical romantic comedy, while simultaneously skirting all of its limiting confines, rising to a level of the greatest of its milieu.
Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a 20-something stand-up comedian in New York City, comfortable in her middling relationship and lackluster job. When her boyfriend abruptly dumps her, having been sleeping with one of her friends, she dives into the nearest bottle of wine. As she attempts to reassemble her romantic life, her only source of income is pulled out from under her, losing her job at a struggling bookstore. In a rapid downward spiral, a drunken night ends in an unlikely one-night stand that results in unexpectedly huge ramifications.
Obvious Child possesses the aura of your typical romantic comedy, while simultaneously skirting all of its limiting confines, rising to a level of the greatest of its milieu.
Obvious Child is front to back comedy, however it just so happens to have several dramatic sensibilities. You know, kind of like life. The ability of the film to balance the more depressing aspects of Donna’s life with the inherent ridiculousness of the perpetual need to carry on is disarmingly honest. The few boundaries of its main character craft an immediate familiarity with the audience that allows us to feel like one of her closest friends. She is written with an inescapable charm that couples wonderfully with a healthy amount of self-deprecation to make her the ultimate romantic-comedy lead. You crave for Donna to succeed, and you blindly sit next to her on her ride of ups-and-downs finding opportunities for celebration throughout.
Donna is certainly written delightfully, with a smart and thoughtful script from writer-director Gillian Robespierre, but Jenny Slate brings her to life. Although this is Slate’s first leading role, and a change from her usual character fare, she handles it with grace and skill. In Donna, the film finds its unlikely heroine, a pillar of confidence in confusion. She breathes life into Donna, and the skill with which she portrays the character communicates a deep sense of self that only comes from an intimacy and understanding of the character’s core makeup. The division between cinema and reality is blurred because of her performance, and it can be difficult to figure out just where Jenny ends and Donna begins. Slate has a proven comedic track record and that is certainly put to good use this time around. She is able to garner laughs from the simplest of actions and is just as funny in her stand up performances as the quieter scenes. The shocker comes when Slate is faced with the sadder and dramatic elements of the film. Avoiding bombast, her performance is one of restraint, communicating deep hurt and difficulty with the hardships of life with emotional ease. Her performance not only carries, but also elevates it, showcasing the skill set of an actor of eminently more experience.
Robespierre directs the film quite simply, with an often static camera that does not distract in its simplicity. Especially in the scenes of standup comedy, it closes the gap between audience and characters, and because of this we are far more devoted and invested in their lives.
While Slate is certainly the standout, the entire cast has a chemistry that many other films would yearn to possess. They work off of each other, giving and taking for full comedic and dramatic effect. This intimate atmosphere allows the group to not seem like one of strangers in an alien world, but rather a group of close friends in which we are a member of the inner circle. Watching the film is like hanging out with your group of friends, if only they were much more hilarious. In so little time, every character feels fully developed, rather than the simplistic caricatures that so often populate romantic comedies. Robespierre directs the film quite simply, with an often static camera that does not distract in its simplicity. Especially in the scenes of standup comedy, it closes the gap between audience and characters, and because of this we are far more devoted and invested in their lives.
It isn’t often that a film is able to make you tear both with laughter and emotionality. Obvious Child’s realistic depiction of the confusion and perpetually unsure nature of near adulthood is certainly not unique in the realm of independent comedies. However, it is executed so wonderfully and authentically as to feel like something entirely different. Jenny Slate is not only endlessly funny as the film’s lead but delivers a performance that is complex and genuine. The script from first time writer-director Gillian Robespierre, avoids melodrama and produces enough laughs as to require multiple viewings. Her characters are pleasantly shaded, not sacrificing any character development no matter how limited their screen time. It isn’t often that a film can be described as both emotionally honest, and a purveyor of well-delivered, and surprisingly tasteful, fart and abortion jokes. Obvious Child is like an awkward, funnier, and less highfalutin Frances Ha. It is an authentic story of honest and real people that just so happens to be endlessly entertaining.
Obvious Child is like an awkward, funnier, and less highfalutin Frances Ha. It is an authentic story of honest and real people that just so happens to be endlessly entertaining.