A Stand-Up Kind of Girl

My push to catch up on well-received movies from last year continues! Towards the end of Gillian Robespierre's indie darling, Obvious Child, protagonist Donna (Jenny Slate) complains to her new boyfriend Max (Jake Lacy) that rom-coms are insipid, and do nothing for her. It's a self-referential wink, letting the audience in on the joke that Obvious Child trades in a few of the silly tropes romantic comedies are known for trafficking in. Thankfully, though, the movie is not solely a string of worn-out conventions, like the drunken voice-mail or giddy dancing around in one's underwear; by the end, it's clear that this is a much maturer and more naturalistic take on modern romance.

Donna is a stand-up comedian who is comfortable talking about her life and her problems on-stage, but loses that confidence and openness once the show is over. She suffers a string of bad luck, losing her boyfriend and her job in the space of a couple of days. Things look up when she meets and flirts with Max, a straight-laced WASP, but her fragile situation is immediately imperiled again when she learns that she's gotten pregnant.

Abortion is usually a no-no topic when it comes to romantic comedies, and even when a movie deigns to consider it (Knocked Up, Juno, etc.), they always have the character relent or reconsider so that they can have their progressive cake and have the baby, too. In a very refreshing take, while Donna agonizes over how to tell Max she's going to have an abortion - or if she even should tell him at all - she never questions whether the abortion itself is the right choice for her. The movie assumes that the character knows what she wants, and that the audience can follow her logic on this without a lot of conversation or debate about it.

I've always liked Jenny Slate in the supporting roles I've seen her in, and it's terrific to see her settle so comfortably into a leading role. Donna knows her life is a mess, and far from expecting the world to fix things for her, she takes the first fledgling steps to make things better for herself. Conveying that awkwardness while still remaining likeable and relatable is a difficult lift, but I found myself rooting for her every step of the way. Obvious Child didn't strike me as a revelatory experience, the way it did for others. But what it did strike me as was a well-made, intelligent movie, and I hope I see a whole lot more like it in the future.

Obvious Child: B+


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