“OBVIOUS CHILD” My rating: B (Now showing at the Tivoli and Leawood theaters)
84 minutes | MPAA rating: R
It’s about a young woman struggling to make it in the world of stand-up comedy. The lead character is played by Jenny Slate, who is in fact an stand-up comic, as well as a past cast member of “Saturday Night Live.”
At this point you might jump to the conclusion that Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” is a comedy.
Well, it is, but not like any comedy we’ve seen lately. It has more in common with dramadies like the cable hits “Girls” and “Nurse Jackie” than your usual rom-com fare. The humor on display elicits as many gasps as guffaws. It’s not so much funny ha-ha as funny weird.
And in its final passages, “Obvious Child” (the title comes from the Paul Simon hit of the same name) achieves a bittersweet blend of hope and loss that is more moving than any plain comedy has a right to be.
Slate’s Donna Stern lives in Brooklyn, works in a fusty old bookstore that specializes in anti-imperialist and non-exploitative works (it actually says so in the store’s name), and spends her after hours at the local open mic night.
As the film begins she learns that her boyfriend has been sleeping with her best friend. The ballsy comic with the potty mouth melts into a weeping mess who spends much time burrowing into the familial warmth of her divorced parents (Richard Kind in absent-minded professor mode, Polly Draper as a college business professor — both excellent).
Moral support also is provided by the gay guy who runs open mic night (Gabe Liedman, who in real life is Stern’s comedy partner) and Donna’s roomie (Gaby Hoffman) — the two women identify so strongly with each other that they sport identical hair styles.
So Donna is somewhat vulnerable when at a show she meets Max (Jake Lacy), a sweet, self-deprecating, buttoned-down-shirt kind of guy. They get drunk, they dance around his apartment in their underwear to Paul Simon’s aforementioned song.
And two weeks later Donna discovers she is with child.
Here’s where Robespierre’s film turns really gutsy. Because when was the last time you saw a comedy about a girl who opts for abortion? No last-minute change of heart. No Prince Charming resolution.
Not that there’s any political posturing or grandstanding about “a woman’s choice.” “Obvious Child” instead follows Donna in the two weeks leading up to her scheduled abortion, deftly (and compassionately) exploring its subject’s conflicted emotions.
There is some funny stuff here. But a lot of soulful searching as well.
Slate, a veteran of TV shows like “Parks and Recreation,” Bob’s Burgers” and “Married“, is a revelation. Because she’s a comic we expect a high degree of proficiency in depicting the gleefully crude world of stand-up. What amazes is her emotional commitment to the material. The result is a comedy that is at its best when we’re not laughing.
| Robert W. Butler