*** (out of 5)
June 6, 2014
Jenny Slate as DONNA STERN
Jake Lacy as MAX
Gaby Hoffmann as NELLIE
Gabe Liedman as JOEY
David Cross as SAM
Richard Kind as JACOB STERN
Polly Draper as NANCY STERN
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
In some ways, the heart and soul of “Obvious Child” is overshadowed by the issues it brings up. No matter what side of the abortion argument you fall on, it is hard to discuss this film without seeing it as “The Abortion Movie.”
On one hand, if you feel that issue needs to be brought up into the collective debate (as if it has never left for the past several decades), this is a good thing. On the pro-choice side, “Obvious Child” shows a woman empowered to make her own decisions and not be saddled into an oppressive life, free to live as she wants to and ultimately become a greater person because of it. On the pro-life side, “Obvious Child” shows the cavalier attitude some have to the procedure and how even the most regret in the world doesn’t change the fact that decisions are made for convenience while the hard choices are swept under the rug in a society of degrading morals.
You see, the argument practically writes itself. And when people are busy having that argument – either championing the film or condemning it – the essence of the movie is lost. And that’s a shame.
“Obvious Child” is so much more than just “The Abortion Movie.” It’s a strong character study of a modern woman in New York City. Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a young stand-up comedienne who is struggling with the fact that her life isn’t turning out as she wanted it to. She faces many of the problems we’ve seen brought up on similarly-themed content, like HBO’s “Girls.” How does one actually make a living in a world where her contemporaries are drowning in student loan debt and can’t get a job slinging coffee at Starbucks.
After a drunken one-night stand, Donna discovers she is pregnant, and she has some heavy decisions to make. Does she tell the father? Does she terminate the pregnancy? Does he have a right to know any of this?
The strength of “Obvious Child” is that none of these are easy decisions for Donna. Her best friend Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) plays the angry feminist version of Devil’s advocate in the abortion discussion. She’s caustic and loud, letting Donna be more thoughtful about the difficult decision. Yes, abortion is a central theme, but it’s not meant to be a movie that debates its morality. Instead, it is presented as a perfectly legal option for a woman living in New York City, but it is also presented as a decision that isn’t to be made lightly.
But beyond the abortion issue, “Obvious Child” is a look at the modern twentysomething. Sure, not all of the younger generation is trying to be a stand-up comedian in New York City, but plenty of them are chasing their dreams and realizing that the days of their parents getting a job based on a relevant degree is as much a thing of the past as the days of their grandparents keeping a single job until retirement was to their parents.
Slate, who is best known for her more vibrant comedic roles like Mona-Lisa Saperstein on “Parks and Recreation” or accidentally dropping an f-bomb on live television during “Saturday Night Live,” does a bang-up job in the role of Donna. She shows a real humanity and spirit beyond just the words on the page. She has enough edge to not make her annoying, but she also bares her emotions well, showing the sad reality that comedians’ lives are often only funny to the people in the audience.
“Obvious Child” is more than just what you think it is. It has a gentler touch than something like “Girls,” but it still finds its center in the independent spirit that helped make the fringe cinema of the 90s so unique.