Jenny Slate in Obvious Child (Chris Teague)

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child (Chris Teague)

Written and Directed by Gillian Robespierre, based on a story by Robespierre, Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm, and a 2009 short film by Anna Bean, Maine and Robespierre
Produced by Elisabeth Holm
Released by A24
USA. 83 min. Rated R
With Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, Polly Draper, Richard Kind, David Cross & Paul Briganti

yellowstar If Lena Dunham has recently earned the crown of comedic Gen Y feminism, her reign may be short lived. And what will be the arbiter of her dethroning? Industry-spawned patriarchy? Diminishing relevance? No. The culprit will undoubtedly be Jenny Slate, whose charm is dangerously inflated with the directorial guidance of Gillian Robespierre in Obvious Child. 

A romantic comedy for the twenty-something woman, Obvious Child orbits around a topic we’ve all dealt with if only on a hypothetical level: the unwanted pregnancy. Slate plays Donna Stern, our lewd anti-heroine, who is reeling from a recent breakup, her only outlet being a comedy routine, red wine, and her best friend (Gaby Hoffman). On top of rejection, the bookstore Donna has worked at for the past five years, (Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books) is going under, leaving her single and jobless.

On the eve of a catastrophic, booze-fueled performance, Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy), an affable dork whose khaki slacks and computer programming reality is far from anything Donna wants to dip her hands into. Regardless, she uses him to perform that ubiquitous coping ritual—the one-night-stand—and winds up pregnant. Instantly aware that she isn’t ready to be a mom, Donna makes several failed attempts to tell Max, who keeps popping up in her life trying to take her on a proper date.

After the affected attempts of such comedies as Juno and Girls, Obvious Child tackles the female perspective with ease and unrelenting humor. It may only address the experience of a specific demographic of women, but it knows its subject head to toe, blouse to panty line. There is pointed precision in the writing, and certainly in Slate’s delivery. Slate is summoning a new cult of women, one that has existed all along. The über dame of Obvious Child is self-aware, unapologetic, and abides by no expectations to be prim, polite, or placed in a bell jar. She is capable of casual sex. She cries, has a college education, farts, and she’s laughing herself through everything.

As a character, Donna is painfully relatable. It’s not that she’s hitting too close to home—she’s practically borrowing our clothes. But this film has more to offer than just a progressive view on women and bowel-shuddering jokes; it’s simply a good movie. There is chemistry between the actors that is potent and genuine, particularly regarding Donna’s relationship with her father (played by Richard Kind), which bears the oddball intricacies of a truly intimate bond.

The dialogue is likewise candid, relevant, and never forced. Of course, few of us are as sharp in our mundane discourse as Donna, but that’s why she’s the comedian. Her witticisms serve a purpose not only for the doubled-over audience, but also for the development of her character. These are not cheap one-liners for the sake of comic relief, but a language that reveals Donna’s modus operandi. Many films have attempted this sort of crude and cynical banter and failed miserably due to their lack of honesty and motivation. Wanting to be hip is not cause enough.

What other films would over-season, Obvious Child serves up a bittersweet tray of coming-of-age truth, full of as many barbs as pearls, with no hint of simplicity.  We leave Donna in an unresolved state; she’s solved one problem, and has many more to tackle. It’s this kind of frank ambiguity that makes Obvious Child great—and not just great for a romantic comedy.