Vail Film Festival Review: Obvious Child

Obvious Child
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Obvious ChildDirected by Gillian Robespierre
Written by Gillian Robespierre and Karen Maine

Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, David Cross, Richard Kind, Polly Draper

I hate romantic comedies. I’m pretty consistent about this. I hate how they demean successful women for not having a husband and how they imply that a woman’s worth arises from her desirability. Surely if a woman is in her thirties, unmarried and childless, her life has been a waste of meaningless aspirations as she waited for the right man to make her whole. This is the gist of most Hollywood romantic comedies, no matter how many variations on a theme the studios churn out. Its teaching young women the wrong lesson and a lot of other women have a hard time relating to it. Mainstream romantic comedies no longer represent or resonate with women. According to writer/director Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child is a direct reaction to that lack of representation in mainstream romantic comedies. She wanted to make a film that women could actually relate to and enjoy as it related to their lives and issues. Gillian Robespierre has changed my mind about romantic comedies. It’s not the genre I hate; I hate the mainstream assumption that all women are the same. Robespierre does not make this mistake and her film is funny, vibrant, and immensely relateable as a result.

Obvious Child is the story of a young stand up comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate). She has a day job at a book store and spends her nights doing comedy sets at a local comedy club. Everything seems to be going well for Donna until her boyfriend unexpectedly dumps her after telling her that he’s been having an affair with her best friend. She then discovers that the book store she’s worked at for five years is closing its doors, leaving Donna out of the job. After a period of adjustment, Donna meets a man named Max (Jake Lacy) at her comedy club and they spend a drunken night together. After a few weeks, Donna discovers that she is pregnant and arranges to have an abortion. As she waits for her approaching appointment, Max comes back into her life and asks her to dinner. As Donna struggles to tell him about her planned abortion, their relationship moves forward by awkward starts and stops.

One of the most wonderful things about this movie is the brilliant casting of Jenny Slate as Donna. She is funny, smart, awkward, genuine, and breathtakingly real. She’s not a J-Lo or a Sarah Jessica Parker or a Reese Witherspoon or any of those artificial, generic, impossible women you see in Hollywood romantic comedies. While her character is wonderfully unique and beautifully portrayed, Donna could be a woman you meet on the street or working in a book shop, and she has the same real fears and issues that real women have. Even women who have not experienced an unwanted pregnancy or an abortion know that they might have to some day. Its likely something that many women think and worry about on a regular basis. It’s not always easy knowing what to do in that situation, but for those who decide to have abortions, its such a difficult thing to do because of the stigma and controversy attached to it. What Robespierre does beautifully is to examine the fear women experience associated with the stigma of abortion and to put a human female face on the issue.

Not only that, but the movie is truly funny and romantic as well. Jenny Slate is a great stand up comedian and actress and the chemistry between her and Jake Lacy’s Max is adorable. And while Donna and Max are clearly attracted to each other, its much different from that perfect, sexy attraction that Hollywood co-stars exhibit for each other. Donna and Max are just getting to know each other and that’s an awkward period of a relationship – and they are adorably, hilariously awkward together. No one can relate to the couples in Hollywood romantic comedies because no relationships have ever been like that in the history of human relationships. What Robespierre has done with all her characters in this film is to make them real – and that’s no mean feat in an industry dedicated to reproductions of fictional accounts represented by actors. Given the circumstances, Obvious Child is a romantic comedy that is as real, honest, and genuine as it gets. It is a truly funny and refreshing film.

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About the Author

Bethany Lewis
My cinema education started when, at three years old, Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" became my earliest memory of cinema. Since then, I've been obsessed with film and television, learning more about it, analyzing it, researching it, and experiencing different kinds of it. After getting my BA in Theater, I went on to get my MFA in Film Studies. I now spend my free time watching and writing about movies.
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