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Obvious Child

by Jake Mulligan
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Thursday Jul 17, 2014
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A scene from 'Obvious Child'
A scene from 'Obvious Child'  

Donna Stern (one-time "SNL"-er Jenny Slate) is having a bad week. Her boyfriend dumped her... in public, no less. She just lost her job. Her mother won't stop bitching at her. This is all making her depressed, which is rendering her life even worse, because she's suppose to be making a second living as an upbeat goofy stand-up comic. She's feeling cursed. And that only amplifies when a one-night stand with a nice guy named Max (Jake Lucy) leaves her pregnant.

The same way movies about flailing slobby guys always end up with them romancing some hot starlet, though, this film becomes a romcom. Max turns out to be pretty much the nicest guy ever, constantly pursuing Donna -- but never in a creepy way. She ends up getting an abortion (the normalcy with which the process is presented has become the hot-button issue surrounding "Obvious Child," but in the framework of the movie, it's just another plot beat), and talking about it on stage, in front of Max, before she even tells him she was pregnant with his child -- and he still falls for her. He's like a manic pixie dream guy. This isn't a movie about a pregnancy so much as it is a movie about two people who find each other because of one. Call the movie "Knocked Up (But Not For Long.)"

That's what's special about "Obvious Child" -- not what happens on screen, but what those happenings signify politically. As mentioned, this manages to flip the Apatow-form comedy on its head, allowing the lady to be as boisterous and full of belly-laughs as a James Franco character. It also manages to present abortion as a fact of life, rather than as a debilitating decision that will haunt you for the rest of your life. These shouldn't be major artistic choices, but considering the rarity with which women get to write and play roles like Donna Stern (or direct them -- the film is helmed by fellow female Gillian Robespierre), they feel like politically radical filmmaking choices.

If only the film were as formally radical as it is politically radical. For the most part, Robespierre simply directs this in the same way you presume a Seth Rogen movie is directed: She films in competently composed mid-shots, allowing the actors to riff and improv to their hearts desire, and she splices it all together (without much of a sense for rhythm) with an aim for maximum hilarity.

There's this one scene, though, where the film actually feels written: The camera travels inside Donna's head, where we see gleefully exaggerated memories of the first night she and Max slept together, because she's trying to remember if he wore a condom. It's an idiosyncratic, manic, downright inspired sequence of cinema. Most of the scenes in this movie prove that women can make stupid gross-out comedies just as well as the guys. But that one scene that goes into Donna's head -- that one suggests that they can make them even better.

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