It's become a bit of the norm lately, a blueprint for young aspiring filmmakers to follow. Many recent debut features out of the Sundance Film Festival, including one of 2013's Top Ten Movies, Short Term 12, and 2014 Grand Jury Prize Winner, Whiplash, represent successful full-length projects that have been adapted from short films. It's time to add another well-regarded festival darling to that list, writer/director Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child.
Donna Stern (played by Jenny Slate) is a twenty-something small-time comedienne whose life is turned upside-down after being dumped by her boyfriend and discovering that the bookstore where she works is closing. The hard-hitting realities of life bombard her all at once, leading to a horrendous performance on stage and an evening of binge-drinking. But during this moment of self deprecation, she meets a genuinely nice guy named Max (Jake Lacy) which leads to a one night stand. A few weeks later Donna learns that she's pregnant and decides to have an abortion, all while Max tries to reconnect her.
The taboo label of an "abortion comedy" is somewhat unjust, mainly because Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child lacks the uproarious hilarity one might expect. Instead, the indie darling relies on sincere and honest performances from its leading pair to help guide this peculiar film to attainable heights. Although I'm uncertain of Jenny Slate's ability as a stand-up comic, her acting chops are certainly on display with a wide array of emotions. Her onscreen counterpart, performed admirably by Jake Lacy, completes an endearing 1-2 punch that breeds a tremendous amount of life to the feature. Convincing acting paired with a tender and soulful screenplay proves to be all that's needed with Robespierre's winning directorial debut.
Despite being an earnest effort, Obvious Child misses the mark with under-achieving humor and a thinly written story. While the characters all feel authentic, a simple plotline requires that the jokes carry you along from scene to scene. However, the self-mocking Jewish punchlines and cringe-worthy onstage misfires during painful stand-up comedy routines result in bumpy transitions throughout the film. Thankfully, Robespierre refuses to prolong the experience and wraps up her female-agenda tale in a reasonable 83 minutes. Therefore, Obvious Child resides as another serviceable and heartwarming indie drama from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival class.
Modern times have not been kind to the young-adults in the United States. Difficulties finding employment, purpose and sustainability have been recent trends that our country is yet to escape. Gillian Robespierre's passion-fueled project, Obvious Child, uses these components as a backdrop to a larger self-discovery story. And although the film clearly targets a female audience, there's still more than enough for everyone to enjoy.