A romantic comedy that starts with an unwanted pregnancy, Gillian Robespierreís Obvious Child begs comparison with Knocked Up. However, while the word ìabortionî wasnít uttered once in Judd Apatowís movie, Robespierreís lead character quickly decides to end her pregnancy and never wavers. Itís easy to give the picture credit for dealing with such verboten subject matter, but by placing it within the context of a conventional romantic comedy, it comes off as slightly more flippant than the filmmakers probably intend.
Adapted from Robespierreís own short film of the same name, the movie stars Jenny Slate as Donna Stern, an aspiring standup comic in her late twenties who regularly performs at a Brooklyn bar on open-mic nights when thereís no cover charge. As the story opens, Donna gets dumped by her boyfriend (supposedly for talking about their relationship too much in her act) and loses her day job at a bookstore thatís being evicted by the owner of the building. Not long after, during a night of epic drinking, she meets Max (Jake Lacy). The two hit it off and enjoy a drunken one-night stand, which Donna slinks away from in the morning.
Weeks later, Donna discovers sheís pregnant. Knowing sheís in no way ready to be a mother, she decides to have an abortion. She tries repeatedly to tell Max what is happening, but keeps chickening out -- in part because heís such a nice guy.
Slate is solid as Donna, letting the characterís crassness and sweetness crash into each other. Itís easy to imagine that she wanted to be a comedian because adults patted her on the head and told her she was adorable whenever she said anything inappropriate. Lacy plays the exceedingly decent Max without condescension. Gaby Hoffmann is appealing as Donnaís straight-talking best friend, Richard Kind and Polly Draper are effective as her parents, and David Cross shows up for an extended cameo as a more successful comic who tries to seduce Donna. Cross and Slateís scenes together feel like an apology by both of them for appearing in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. They provide the funniest moments in the picture, if you donít count the one-night-stand sex scene thatís scored to an underrated Paul Simon song for no other reason than it has the same title as the film.
The nagging problem about this movie is the lack of dramatic tension; there just isnít much momentum. Donna never hesitates in her decision, so the plot isnít about abortion so much as her growing up and dealing with what the procedure means for her various relationships. Sadly, the conflict there is almost nonexistent. She has great, supportive parents, a flawless best friend, and the romantic attention of a nice young man.
Because of the by-the-numbers rom-com arc of Donna and Maxís relationship, her inability to tell him about the pregnancy feels less like genuine human behavior and more like a plot contrivance to stretch this film to feature length. We just wait for her to finally fill him in on whatís going on, and thereís no doubt what his reaction is going to be.
Since the movie takes a calm look at such a polarizing topic, there will be some who champion Obvious Child simply because it exists. But as a rom-com, itís so safe and unchallenging that it wonít stick in your brain long enough for the message to matter.
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- Released: 2014
- Rating: R
- Review: A romantic comedy that starts with an unwanted pregnancy, Gillian Robespierreís Obvious Child begs comparison with Knocked Up. However, while the word ìabortionî wasnít uttered once in Judd Apatowís movie, Robespierreís lead character quickly decides to en… (more)