Monday, October 6, 2014

Obvious Child review

Believe it or not, I've been waiting for a movie like "Obvious Child" to come around for quite some time. We've had so many movies deal with unwanted pregnancies where only one outcome is considered: keep the baby. Juno and Knocked Up are two movies that come to mind and I enjoy those movies just fine, but it's kind of refreshing to see a romantic-comedy go the alternative route. Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) has two choices when she finds out she's pregnant and she chooses to have an abortion. That's it. That's what going to happen. I love how "Obvious Child" deals with the subject straight on while still finding a way to mine comedy out of these characters and even allow time for some romance.

And of course, the romantic stakes in this film is much different than in your typical rom-com. Donna's a stand-up comedian who finds out her boyfriend's been cheating on her and Donna does not take this well. She takes out her frustration on the stage, through angry voicemails, some slight stalking, and yes, through alcohol. Of course.

During one of her drunken stupors, she meets a seemingly nice and charming man named Max (Jake Lacy). What I love about this character, Max, is that despite how kind, shy, and rather soft-spoken he is, you learn just enough about him to find him interesting, but not too much that you aren't privvy to what his next move will be. Max meets Donna at the bar where she does stand-up. Luckily for Donna, he hadn't seen her completely bomb while on stage. In fact, she's managing to kill it with Max despite her drunken ramblings.

Max and Donna eventually leave the bar and things get pretty hot and heavy when they head over to Max's apartment. As you might expect, this leads to a one night stand which leads to the unwanted pregnancy. And once Donna makes the very painful decision to have an abortion, she spends the rest of the movie trying to find a way to tell Max.

I don't know, I loved this movie. I loved Donna so much. I know people like Donna. And I know people like Nellie (Gaby Hoffman), who plays Donna's super supportive friend who helps guide Donna through this extremely difficult process. Donna's a comedian. She deflects everything through comedy. The movie makes a point not to let the heaviness of this abortion affect the tone too much. The conversations with Max, with Donna's mother, the stand-up set she does the night before Valentine's Day (day of the abortion)---all of these scenes have a degree of weightiness to them, to the point where there's no need to make it weightier. The comedy that's mined from these situations is both funny and poignant. If the movie played up the dramatic aspects of this situation, it could've easily become unbearable to watch. It would've just turned into a Lifetime movie of the week. I applaud writer/director Gillian Robespierre for the amount of control she shows in both her script and in her directorial choices. This is a movie that both plays it as straight as possible, and with a lightness to it that, honestly, is pretty realistic.

So the movie kinda has a rom-com formula going on, but it works for me because there isn't another romantic comedy out there that deals with an issue as real as this. When Donna is having a nice date with Max but can't seem to find a way to tell him what's really going on - I felt that. I understood that innately. Despite the fact that the movie has a clear formula, a clear arc, at no point did I feel that any of this was contrived. And when the movie turns sweet at the end, considering the events that had preceded this final moment, a sweet ending just felt right. In "Juno," Michael Cera and Ellen Page are fucking singing to each other via acoustic guitars. Why can't the same scenario play out here?

What really moved me about this film was just how alone Donna feels throughout the film, but slowly she realizes she's not alone. There are several women out there who've been in situations just like her. She has nothing to be ashamed with. And yes, it's an event that she'll remember the rest of her life, but it doesn't define her. Just like it doesn't define any other woman who've gone ahead with this decision.

Agh. It was hard to write this review because, obviously, abortion is such a hot-button issue and I didn't want this review to veer off too much into politics. But I'm just so glad this movie exists, I really am. I think this is what movies are made for, in a way. I've said it before in my "Boyhood" review: people have no empathy these days. Through facebook, twitter---it's very easy to cast judgments on people because you don't have to meet said people in real life. Movies force us to at least try to empathize. Even if you don't agree with Donna's decision, can't you just take 85 minutes of your time and at least try to have some empathy? This movie forces you to understand the perspective of the other side of this decision-making process. Because the truth is, either decision is the right decision for that particular person in that particular time. And for the young women who are going through this very situation now, or in the future, they now have a movie that tells them that, whatever your decision is, you're not alone.

"Obvious Child" is not perfect. Who would expect it to be? After all, it's the directorial debut for Robespierre. The movie does fit a little too neatly within its rom-com constraints and I think it would've been nice to see Max and Donna have a real conversation about what's going to happen. I think there were a few too many cases where real drama could've been played out between these characters, but the writer/director eschewed that, perhaps consciously because of the seriousness of the subject matter.

Still, this is a remarkably confident and assured film that's capped off by beautiful performance from Jenny Slate. I hope this is a star-making performance because Slate is enormously talented and after seeing her play such wacky characters on "Kroll Show" and "Parks and Recreation," it's nice to see that she can dial it down and still be interesting to watch on screen.

But, again, Gillian Robespierre deserves the bulk of the credit for the relative ease in which she constructed the movie. "Obvious Child" has a very low key, unassuming feel that's digitally shot, but there's not much hand-held. Save for one painful, yet funny scene where Donna awaits the results of her pregnancy test (the only scene where we get an exclusive look inside Donna's thoughts), Robespierre pretty much lets the actors do their thing and the results are top-notch. I never thought I'd say this about a movie that deals with abortion but... I would happily revisit this movie. It's only 85 minutes long, yet these characters are so lovable and well-written that I feel like I really got to know them in spite of the brisk running time. And while it took me a few months to finally catch "Obvious Child" on Itunes, I will be sure to be there opening weekend whenever Robespierre gets around to making a second feature. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Grade: A-

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