Refreshing "Obvious Child" spins rom-com formula on its back

By Genevieve Valentine
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 18, 2014

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Jenny Slate as Donna in "Obvious Child."

It’s a commentary on the current cultural temperature that when Obvious Child’s Donna (a magnetic Jenny Slate) discovers she’s pregnant, the film suddenly takes on an air of suspense. See, despite a social safety net—caring parents, angelic roommate—they agree Donna’s in no place to have a kid; Donna herself seems sure of her choice. And yet, her one-night stand keeps popping up, which is the worst possible sign. A recent spate of pregnancy-heavy romantic comedies (Juno, Knocked Up, Waitress) have primed us to expect that she might waver at the last second and instead commit to a sudden nuclear family with a guy just nice enough to settle for.

Luckily, Obvious Child exists to refute those expectations. Director and writer Gillian Robespierre deliberately sets out to make this the sort of meandered-soul comedy that generally belongs to men, who have a long-established cinematic track record of being considered worthy of a flick or 10. Here, the messy life is entirely Donna’s. Despite occasional rom-com dance montages, she’s presented through a sympathetic but observant lens that views mistakes and triumphs with equal weight and keeps things from getting treacly. (The actual lens offers a low-key immediacy that tends to pull back at Donna’s nadirs, taking in the full absurdity and quiet heartbreak of that day’s most embarrassing moment.)

Slate clears every comedic hurdle with air to spare, but it’s in occasional excruciating stand-up gigs and emotional collapses that Donna becomes human. Though the abortion in the film seems like a milestone simply for existing, it becomes merely another marker of adulthood for Donna, neither a turning point in her life or a solution to her problems. Without any rom-com pressure to be palatable, Donna instead gets to be real. It’s a refreshing change of pace. 

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