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Monday, July 7, 2014

Obvious Child Review: A Little Gem Amongst Standard Summer Fare

The abortion comedy Obvious Child is as genuinely sweet as it is totally disgusting.

Independent films are a tough act to sell, especially during the summer months, when our minds are filled with robots, monsters, superheroes, and brainless assembly-line comedies. But that doesn't mean this world of low-budget fare should be ignored. The independent comedy Obvious Child is just such a little gem, ready to win you over with its wit and heart, even if its actors aren't exactly A-Listers.

Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) has just lost her job at a Brooklyn bookstore, and her effort to make it big as a comedian isn't working out too well either. It's in this fertile environment for really bad decision-making that Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy), and after several drinks the two find themselves in the throws of unprotected sexual bliss. But evenings like these usually come at a price, and Donna soon learns that she's pregnant. Faced with a tough decision but too embarrassed to call Max, she seeks counseling from her roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) and her parents Jacob (Richard Kind) and Nancy (Polly Draper). As Donna and Max reconnect, the two must decide what to do about Donna's pregnancy and work to keep their new-found relationship from failing before it can begin.

Child makes no apologies for its content, whether it be the disgusting sailor tongue of Donna's standup or its ultimate subject matter. That's going to offend large parts of the population, but Director Gillian Robespierre knows this: rather than trying to dull some of the script by her and co-writer Karen Maine, the two let the horses loose, and the results yield tasty fruit. There's an accidental farting in Donna's face by Max, jokes about day-old lingerie twisted in spots that make it sound uncomfortable, and dozens of other exchanges that are wrapped around an abortion story that dares to suggest women have a choice.

This sort of honesty is what makes Child so appealing, which includes the casting of Slate and Lacy, a pair who aren't known for their A-List good looks. But this one isn't a one-pony trick through Crassville: the way Slate takes us through Donna's character and the consequences of her actions is as real as its going to get. Robespierre's tight direction gives Kind and Draper just enough time for us to see why Donna is so dysfunctional and almost ripe for this type of failure. Comedy like this is the perfect way to broach serious subjects, and Robespierre and Slate are evenly matched in telling it. Think I Give it a Year and For a Good Time, Call... and you start to get close to Obvious Child.

Some might complain that its leads aren't pretty enough, or that Robespierre doesn't take enough chances with the camera, but that's the joy of well-constructed independent films - they take on only what they need to tell their story, never sticking around too long before the next scene. Some of that is based on the tight budgets of smaller films, but Child excels at playing its best hand. But make no mistake: this is not a film filled with A-listers, rather a film about real-looking 20-somethings growing up in a time when sexual promiscuity and religious fanaticism about it seem to be at their greatest odds.

Slate's big hair and (let's be honest) plain features give her a uniqueness that equaled only by her inescapably torrid potty mouth. If you hate the idea of raunchy comedies, you'll only get through the first five minutes of Child before wanting to leave the theater. Give it a few more minutes before making such a rash decision, else you're apt to miss a great independent comedy that breaks too many barriers to mention here.

Obvious Child won't make a lot at the box office, due to the rather plain appearance of our lead and her friends. Had it been filled with prettier A-List actors, this would be a major release with a ton of marketing, but also a potentially hollow production that couldn't have broached such subject matter without cutting creative corners. But we don't get the sense that this film needs those assets anyways to make it work: Obvious Child is crass but funny and heartwarming, and could be a fun date night outing that guys shouldn't roll their eyes at having to see. If I can recommend it on those standards alone, you too might actually enjoy this little independent film that can.

Obvious Child is rated R for every conceivable reason and has a runtime of 84 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

Please leave a comment.


Aaron Jones July 7, 2014 at 5:33 PM  

I concur, Matt. I was afraid you'd pan this one!

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