SXSW 2014 Review: Obvious Child

I missed Obvious Child three times at Sundance due to crazy schedules. I’m so glad it played SXSW and as such, it is this year’s Spec Now for me; it’s even being released by A24. It is either the perfect vehicle for Jenny Slate, or evidence that Jenny Slate can turn anything into a profound, hilarious performance. I’m willing to believe the latter.

Slate plays Donna Stern, a standup comedian who does jokes about her vagina, panties and farting. She gets dumped by her boyfriend and goes through a depression, coming out of it when she meets and hooks up with Max (Jake Lacy). Weeks later, Donna is pregnant and decides to have an abortion, and then Max comes back into her life.

Donna’s story is raunchy, whimsical, has plenty of naughty language and themes but also a lovable tone. Donna and Max’s meet-cute involves the phrase “pee pee missiles” so that’s an example of the kind of dirty baby talk that defines Donna’s character. Watching her eat spaghetti is adorable too, but it’s genuinely sexy when she and Max have a drunken romp together. The panties do pay off in the “morning after” scene.

Slate/Donna is so self-deprecating she’s impossibly attractive. No matter what mistakes she makes, and I’m not judging her, it’s hard to dislike someone who owns her flaws so well. Both the actor and the character are comedians so she can turn any situation into a bit. Add in a great script by writer/director Gillian Robespierre and Donna has a clever response to anything, but not in an “on” way that’s obnoxious. She’s just working material. It’s legitimate practice.

I love schtick and Obvious Child continues a few bits of schtick throughout the movie to explore their further potential. In addition to the panties, Max’s shoes become a nice recurring topic and there are several others that I won’t spoil. Donna and her roommate (Gaby Hoffman) have a history littered with references and a rhythm to their banter that makes it feel like we’ve been invited to a private show.

The sincere scenes are sympathetic and honest. Maybe “sincere” isn’t the right distinction because the humor is sincere also. The point is Obvious Child may make light of its crises but it doesn’t take them lightly. It also solves that conundrum of when comedies get serious and stop being comedies. Obvious Child is always both. The overbearing parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper) prove to be genuinely supportive when it comes down to it, but the abortion jokes do have impeccable timing, I must give them credit for that. So for great abortion jokes and lovely, appealing characters, you can’t go wrong with Obvious Child.

It’s a simple character drama with comedy throughout and a unique voice. You don’t need to have a high concept when the writing and performances are this outrageous and clever. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.


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