Runtime: 84 Minutes
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Writer: Gillian Robespierre (plus story by: Karen Maine & Elisabeth Holm)
Stars: Donna Stern, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
By Becky Matthews
Re-watching and reappraising “Obvious Child” in 2019 for the In Their Own League top 50 films directed by women since 2010 list, it’s hard to imagine the film finding distribution in the US in an era where stricter abortion laws are being imposed, and the government-backed film Unplanned was a box office hit. Not that the film wasn’t without its share of anti-abortion outrage on its initial 2014 release.
This is a personal film, with a shot of the political. Gillian’s Robespierre’s debut feature isn’t as steeped in the abortion debate as something like Alexander Payne’s “Citizen Ruth”, but it balances a heavy subject with a lightness of touch that shines through Jenny Slate’s leading performance as Donna.
What She Said:
“Despite a few too-cute moments, the movie is both smarter and more sympathetic than that glib shorthand.”
The set up is a fairly standard rom-com affair. Donna is a broke 20-something New Yorker, working in a bookstore called Unoppresive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books by day and doing confessional stand up comedy at night. After being unceremoniously dumped by her drippy, cheating boyfriend, she has a meet-cute one night stand with wholesome dude-next-door Max (Jake Lacy), the titular Paul Simon tune’s playful rhythm playing as they dance and then tumble into bed. Soon after, Donna discovers she’s pregnant, dealing with the fallout from a broken condom as well as a broken heart.
It’s a film that understands the weight of the subject matter, without judging or pitying its lead character. When Donna’s flatmate, Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) quips “We already live in a patriarchal society where a bunch of old white men in weird robes legislate over what we should do with our c**ts” it has a much more pertinent sting in 2019 than it did on its initial release.
The humour in “Obvious Child” comes from vulnerability rather than cute gags and wry observations about what relationships are like. From potshots at the patriarchy to diffusing difficult conversations with parents, there’s a bite to the jokes. Donna spins her pain into comedic material, which shields as well as soothes. Jenny Slate makes it look effortless too, which is a testament not only to her performance but also to Slate’s collaboration with Gillian Robespierre and co-writer Elisabeth Holm.
What She Said:
“It doesn’t overtly try to be anything more than what it is, which makes it that much more cool to watch.”Candice Frederick, Reel Talk OnlineTwitter @ReelTalker
Like classic US-set romantic comedies, New York City features as a bit of a character itself. With its indie bookshops and Manhattan skyline, “Obvious Child” feels like an alumna of the Nora Ephron school of tangled love and biting wit, albeit one where people live in smaller apartments and wear thrift-store cardis.
The push and pull of the rom-com beats are less “will they, won’t they” and more, can you make it through a Valentine’s Day abortion with someone you barely know? An unwanted pregnancy isn’t the easiest start to a potential relationship, especially when it was initially just a fun one-off. Keen bean Max shows up in Donna’s life again, and there is a spark of chemistry that holds up after their night together. But she struggles to tell him about the pregnancy, finding it easier to drop a tight five minutes of stand up in a room full of strangers.
What She Said:
“Beautifully redresses how the realities of women’s lives are too often ignored on film… and does so with startling raw power and humor.”MaryAnn Johanson, Flick FilosopherTwitter@maryannjohanson
The film plays with rom-com conventions in a low key, mumblecore style, there is even a tiny fourth wall breaking nod to the genre that works because of the charm of its characters. It may have been named after a hit from a male music legend, but “Obvious Child” is a tiny rebel of a film that dances to the beat of telling the female experience on a personal and as well as a universal level.
The Extra Bits:
Where to watch:
Amazon: Rent & Buy
iTunes: Rent & Buy
YouTube: Rent & Buy
Google Play: Rent & Buy
Who to follow:
Gillian Robespierre @GillianHardG
Karen Maine @KL_Maine
Elizabeth Holm @bettyholm