Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:06 pm 
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Foul-mouthed girl comic gets sweet hunk

The vulgarity, sexual explicitness and compulsive personal honesty of female standup comic Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) protagonist of Obvious Child, which may suggest neurotic, self-destructive behavior, are in contrast to the movie's straightforward upbeat outcome. The movie, set in Brooklyn and Manhattan, begins with vagina and penis jokes, but turns out to be a rom-com whose denoument is a feel-good abortion sequence. Though Obvious Child has twists along the way, the oddest note may be the suggestion that a girl can still meet a Mr. Right, and on the rebound too. But what recommends the movie isn't so much its storyline as its appealing central character, sold by the from-the-heart style of its good looking, smooth talking star, Jenny Slate, a Saturday Night Live vet whose standup here becomes (within the film's storyline) strictly autobiographical.

Her first lines about her vagina onstage lead to describing her boy friend as "having a working penis." Perhaps working overtime, since as soon as the act's over this individual announces to Donna that he's leaving her for her best friend. When she gets drunk aided by her gay comic friend Joey (Gabe Liedman), she's joined by a tall, hunky, super-straight and "Christian" (Donna being very self-consciously Jewish) young businessman called Max (Jake Lacy).

When she goes home with Max, who is never turned off by any of her frank talk, they dance, act wild, and have sex. Next thing she knows, helped through the drama of a first pregnancy test by her friend (Suzanne Lenz), Donna indeed discovers she and Max didn't actually properly use a condom, and she's pregnant. As an extra, her place of work, a bookstore, is suddenly about to close. Dumped, pregnant, out of work.

Today's Apatow-style comedies are usually about young men avoiding responsibility. Here, where the woman is at the center, this is a non-issue. Max simply keeps coming around. He turns out to be a favorite student of Donna's business-school-prof mother (Polly Draper - from thirtysomething!), so Donna sees him not only at the bookstore but by chance at her mother's. Donna wants to tell him she's pregnant, but can't quite. She reveals it finally when Max turns up for one of her comedy routines, where she announces she is having an abortion, on Valentine's Day (there's a reason). Max neither advocates nor apposes this; it's not his decision. At first he bolts but he is soon back, and is simply present for the event to support it. Likewise Donna's mother is a breeze about the whole thing. She is just relieved the news is an abortion and not a move to Los Angeles; turns out she had an abortion once herself.

One obvious interval is an abortive evening at a fancy loaned apartment with Donna's comedy club boss Sam (David Cross), who is going to Los Angeles. What was just to be a drink is obviously an attempt to take her to bed, and she bolts. Sam is yucky, a clearcut Mr. Wrong. He makes the already appetizing Max look even more perfect. But Donna doesn't leap into the arms of Max either. Again belying the rules of rom-com that require making all the wrong moves, Donna simply does the sensible thing under the circumstances and accepts Max.

For conservatives about religion or childbirth the film's embracing of a possible mixed (Jewish-Christian) union and wholehearted acceptance of abortion might be doubly offensive. Certainly Max is a woman's fantasy of a knight in shining armor (who obligingly keeps his opinions to himself, except to approve). But Obvious Child's standup comedy dirty talk is combined with grownup attitudes and good sense and free of the usual sickly rom-com mix of of snide jokiness and sentimentality. There's not much to Obvious Child. It lacks the stars or the punch to be a big hit at the box office. But on the whole it's a pleasant surprise. It's a Sundance hit (which A24 paid a good price for there) that succeeds by not setting its sights too high, yet going its own way.

Obvious Child , 83 min., debuted at Sundance. It was screened for this review as part of the FSLC-MoMA New Directors/New Films series, where it is the centerpiece film, showing Thursday, March 27, 9:00pm at MoMA's PS1 and Saturday, March 29, 3:00pm at Lincoln Center. Obvious Child initially released June 6 but entered wide release June 27, 2014.

The movie got some added publicity when NBC initially balked at airing an ad for it because it contained the word "abortion." The ad has now been restored containing that word (June 27, 2014).

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