Donna Stern’s life is fast tracked to falling apart, and we get to ride along. This is basically the set-up for the new Jenny Slate film, Obvious Child, which played Sundance and SXSW and will be opening nationwide in June. I’m always hesitant to see films starring comics. Too often I catch them mugging for the camera or playing the laugh rather than the line. Jenny Slate, however, fills Obvious Child with such honesty and openness that’s its actually hard to believe she didn’t write it.
She didn’t. Gillian Robespierre wrote and directed this film, based on her previous short, but in Slate she has found the perfect outlet for a cornucopia of neuroses and issues pressing upon twenties-somethings: comics, women, lapsed-jews and the venn diagram of all the above.
Obvious Child follows the chaos that ensues when comedian Donna Stern is dumped in the disgusting bathroom of a comedy club, right after she aired her and her boyfriend’s sex issues to the crowd. Depression leads to drunkenness leads to “getting banged out” as Donna calls it. And a few weeks later, she’s pregnant.
To complicate matters further, she keeps running into her one-night-stand (played by Jake Lacy, or ‘New Jim’ from The Office), who is actually a pretty nice guy. Both Slate and Lacy give fantastically natural performances – it is a joy just to be able share these moments with them. And not just the comedy, many of the most touching scenes are between Donna and her mother (played by Polly Draper). Also great are Gaby Hoffman (who plays Donna’s militant feminist friend) and Gabe Liedman (a quite charming club owner/fellow comic). In fact, the only misfire in the film is a strange and unnecessary cameo from comedian David Cross who mugs for the camera and plays for laughs.
However, the real star of the film is the writing, because performances this fresh can only come from a script so well-crafted that it feels not like a script at all, but a window into the writer’s soul. This is a special film. I hope it doesn’t get marketed too much as a ‘pro-choice’ film because that’s only one small aspect of it. It’s really ‘pro-relationship’ and both with lovers and family (and friends), because part of Donna’s journey in the film is discovering how much support she has around her. Her life may be in chaos but she has any number of people to grab on to until she can pull herself through. It’s an uplifting film, and a surprising simple story that doesn’t get told enough on the big screen. And yes, the Paul Simon song “Obvious Child” is prominently and well featured.