Friday, June 27, 2014

OBVIOUS CHILD: A Plucky Abortion Rom Com

Opening today at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, the Chelsea Theatre in Chapel Hill, and the Rialto Theater in Raleigh:

OBVIOUS CHILD (Dir. Gillian Robespierre, 2014)

With its small comedy club scenes, and shabby New York apartment settings, it sometimes seems throughout this film like comedienne Jenny Slate has hi-jacked an episode of Louie.

Gilliam Robespierre’s writing/directing debut also has got a Girls thing going on too, with its navel gazing mindset, and that Slate and Gaby Hoffmann, who plays her roommate, have both appeared on the popular HBO program.

But the Sundance comedy OBVIOUS CHILD, aka “that rom com about abortion,” mixes its own affable, very amusing sensibility in with these familiar elements, largely due to Slate’s neurotically nerdy performance as a Brooklyn comic who gets knocked up.

The film begins with Slate getting dumped (“dumped up with” as she puts it) after delivering what could be considered a way too personal stand-up routine. Adding to her self-aware sad sack existence is that she will soon lose her day job as a clerk because the bookstore she works at is closing (the Greenwich Village store - Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Books, which actually exists and isn’t closing).

A drunken one-night stand with a nice guy stranger (Jake Lacy, from the last season of The Office U.S.) leaves our heroine with a bun in the oven, but being young, messed up, and way in over her head, Slate decides to have an abortion, scheduled for Valentine’s Day.

Going through the motions, and emotions of ending a pregnancy, the film never makes pro or anti-abortion statements. Nobody tries to talk her out of it, there aren’t sign wielding protesters at the clinic, nothing like that. Slate’s mother, Polly Draper of Thirtysomething fame, even makes a relieved joke when she’s told: “I thought you were going to tell me you were moving to California!”

I, like many, was first introduced to Slate on Saturday Night Live. She was a cast member for one year (2009-2010), and will go down in SNL history for dropping the “F-bomb” (in her debut sketch called “Biker Chick Chat” no less). After that she’s had memorable turns on the aforementioned Girls, Parks and Recreation (as Aziz Ansari’s crazy on again/off again girlfriend Mona-Lisa Saperstein), and the Showtime series House of Lies.

This movie most likely won’t make Slate a household name, but it’s a solid first starring vehicle for her. If you can get through all her fart jokes, you’ll find a winning funny personality especially in touching scenes with Richard Kind as her schlubby father.

Also standing out is a hilariously profane drunk dialing sequence in which Slate repeatedly leaves messages with her ex as she goes further and further off the deep end. Her convincingly over-the-top acting is combined with some deft editing (by Casey Brooks and Jacob Craycroft).

The up and coming actress also holds her own with David Cross as a somewhat sleazy fellow comedian, Gabe Liedman as a much nicer fellow comic, and certainly Lacy, who has a quick-witted sense of humor that appealingly fits with Slate’s. There’s undeniable chemistry between the couple when they come together on what Lacy calls “the best worst Valentine's Day I've ever had.”

Robespierre refashioned her 2009 short film of the same name, which also starred Slate, into this full length feature, but at just 83 minutes it feels like an extended short. I chuckled a lot and loved its crude, goofy energy, but it is a tad slight on the narrative side. Some characters and tangents could’ve stood a little more fleshing out.

So it’s a tad under-cooked, but OBVIOUS CHILD, named after the 1991 Paul Simon song, has heart and humor a plenty. It may be a hard sell to some folks because of its abortion theme and possible unfamiliarity with Slate, but I bet most art house film goers will come out of Robespierre’s plucky little comedy smiling.

More later...

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