Some stand-up comedians try to distance themselves from life through comedy as their shield while others try to deal with life through comedy as their spear. In case of the flawed heroine of “Obvious Child”, she belongs to the latter, and she willingly uses the details of her private life to draw laughs from her audiences. As watching her performances, we see more of her personality ready to be expressed freely in front of others, and we understand more of how she uses her sense of humor to move through her imperfect life, which still demands her to grow up more.
When we see Jenny Slate (Donna Stern) doing her usual stand-up comedy performance at some small club in New York during the opening scene, she goes straight into very sensitive areas including a certain body part of hers as well as her current romantic relationship. This can be pretty embarrassing for both sides if she makes any big misstep during her monologue, but she succeeds in making the audiences laugh along with her, and it is really amusing to see how she pulls it off as being quite frank about herself in front of her audiences.
However, her current boyfriend Ryan (Paul Briganti) is clearly not so pleased about how she makes jokes on their sex life in public, and he tells her that he is going to leave her for one of her friends. While trying to handle this sudden bad news, Donna receives another bad news to deal with; a local bookstore where she has worked for 5 years is now about to be closed down due to financial problems, and that means she has to depend on her parents for a while.
This is indeed a hard situation, but she has several people to help and support her at least. Her roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffman) and fellow comedian Gene (Stephen Singer) try to cheer up their friend as spending more time with her, and her father Jacob (Richard Kind) gives some pep talks to his daughter as a loving father while his divorced wife Nancy (Polly Draper) is also willing to help her daughter if she wants.
During one evening when she gives a disastrously embarrassing performance fueled by lots of alcohol, she happens to meet a young guy named Max (Jake Lacy) at the club. Although they are total stranger to each other, something sparks as they talk more with each other, and they later go to his place. While both of them are quite drunk around that point, they clearly enjoy each other’s company none the less, and they eventually go to his bed at the end of their exhilarating night. As soon as she wakes up in the next morning, Donna quietly leaves his place, and that looks like the end of a simple one-night stand which was pretty fun and exciting to both of them.
However, after a few weeks, Donna realizes she is pregnant because of that one-night stand. She decides to have an abortion because she is not ready for motherhood, but then she and Max happen to meet each other again, and, as finding herself more attracted to this nice guy, she begins to ask herself on whether she must tell him about her pregnancy – and the following decision made by her.
Abortion is surely a serious matter, and the movie handles its sensitive subject with care and respect while never losing its sense of humor. Donna’s first visit to a gynecological clinic is depicted under thoughtful mood, but, as a professional comedian, Donna cannot prevent herself from observing a glaring irony when she is notified of her abortion schedule. She and her friends do have some laughs during their following conversation on her abortion, but they are all well aware of that it is not a trivial matter for herself at all, and she continues to wonder whether she really can move on to the next stage of her life after her abortion.
The movie is based on a short film directed by its director/co-writer Gillian Robespierre (this is her first feature film). While sprinkled with intimate moments of low-key humor, her movie is engaging to watch thank to its good dialogues and solid characterization, and its stand-up comedy performances feel natural and improvised right at the spot rather than something written in advance.
Robespierre thought of Jenny Slate as her lead actress right from the beginning, and Slate gives a warm, likable performance as a young amiable woman with human flaws we can recognize and understand with smiles. Donna still has some immature sides inside her, but we can always see her good nature just like other characters around her, and we come to like her more as getting to know more about her. Slate is particularly good as her character tries to juggle her clashing emotions on the stage during one crucial moment in the film, and it is both entertaining and touching to watch Donna doing her best for maintaining the right tone for her performance and, most of all, herself. Whenever she hits right notes, she is really funny, and we cannot help but smile and cheer for her when that happens.
Slate is surrounded by a number of good supporting performers who provide extra dose of humor and warmth to the movie. Gabby Hoffman, Stephen Singer, Richard Kind, David Cross, and Polly Draper have each own moment along the story, and Jake Lacy has a lovely moment when his character does a small act of consideration for Donna. Donna and Max only begin to know each other bit by bit through the series of their coincidental encounters, but such a considerate act of his touches her a lot, and it makes her all the more conflicted about what she should do if she really wants to pursue the possible relationship with him.
Balancing itself well between humor and honesty, “Obvious Child” is a smart comedy which can be funny and heartfelt at the same time. I was only mildly amused during my first viewing, but then I was more entertained during the second viewing as observing more of its direct and thoughtful approach to its main subject. There is surely nothing to laugh about abortion itself, but we sometime deal with our difficult life matters through humor, don’t we?