There’s something positively familiar about Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child. It’s a film that contends with the same sense of arrested female development that’s explored recently (and successfully) in Lena Dunham’s Girls and (unsuccessfully) in Scott Coffey’s Adult World. Its angle, based on how the film is marketed, is in how it approaches an unwanted pregnancy. There have been suggestions that, because of this, the film bares a kinship to Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s Juno. While superficial similarities exist - the lead characters in both films possess a verbal wit well beyond their years - one could assume Obvious Child to serve as a cynical response to the warmer Juno.
Donna (Jenny Slate) is a 20-something stand-up comedian. The bookstore where she works is closing and her boyfriend broke up with her. As Donna attempts to rebound from her stroke of bad luck, she encounters Max (Jake Lacy): a straight-laced Boy Scout-type more inclined to win Donna’s heart than play with it. Still, with Max clearly being the fish out of water and Donna looking to secure a rebound, the two commit to a one-night stand.
It’s a schlocky sitcom premise that instigates much of the plotting to Obvious Child and rarely relents. And with so many non sequiturs the film arguably feels more like a condensed Season 1 primer than a full-fledged film. But what keeps Obvious Child interesting is Jenny Slate’s lead performance and a committed resolve to subvert the traditional abortion narrative. This is a film about a lead character who understands that she’s an adolescent at best, is incapable of caring for a child, and quickly comes to terms with the notion that an abortion is her best route. Donna is a resilient character and a self-aware one - she understands her weaknesses and knows her strengths. Her greatest hurdle (and the source of the film’s recurrent gags) comes when she realizes that Max may actually care about her decision. Yet even here, it’s not a matter of convincing him but rather finding the most appropriate opportunity to tell him.
Robespierre adapts her short film of the same name for her debut and it’s a commendable if not an especially distinguished one. The strains of extending the picture are there, largely found in the secondary cast (Gaby Hoffmann, Richard Kind, and David Cross) who are largely slumming about in the film riffing with Slate. But the film belongs to Slate who submits a performance of salient depth: conveying a palpable sense of trying to escape her adolescent trappings.