Typically, comedies aimed at women are romantic comedies with plucky, pretty heroines who just need to loosen up to meet Mr. Right. Obvious Child is being categorized as a romantic comedy, but that's not right. Really it's a self-discovery comedy, though that's a less sexy descriptor. Like Bridesmaids, the focus isn't shared between a will-they/they-probably-will couple, but instead centers on a woman whose struggle to grow up is sloppy yet embarrassingly relatable. She's a hilarious hot mess, played by Jenny Slate in a performance that should damn-well launch her to stardom.
Named for the Paul Simon song that plays at its center, Obvious Child follows stand-up comedienne Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) as she bumbles through heartbreak, rebound sex, and potentially opening herself up to love. But hers are not the pretty problems of the Katherine Heigls and Jennifer Anistons of the world. Donna is a fuck-up. Her boyfriend has dumped her. Her survival job has a fast-approaching expiration date. She drinks too much. Her depression over all this is hurting her stand-up routine. But things get stickier when a drunken one-night stand gets her pregnant.
In a rare move for a movie heroine, Donna decides to have an abortion. But she has to wait for her appointment in a few weeks… on Valentine's Day. The look on her face as she's confronted with this cosmic joke pretty perfectly defines the humor of this outrageous and heartfelt comedy. Though Donna is stalwart in her decision, she's wondering if she should contact her hook-up to let him know. Then fate throws him in her path.
This brave comedy from first-time director Gillian Robespierre sets itself apart from its presumed rom-com pack from its jarring first line, a bit of stand-up from Donna's act about casual vaginal excretions. This is no pretty, glossy tale of love in New York City. Slate and Robespierre dive into the kind of gross but truthful comedy that has long been the domain of men--or, in movies, man-children. It feels at once revolutionary in its honesty, yet comfortable and right.
It can't be said enough how remarkable Slate is in Obvious Child. She's made a name for herself playing broad comedic roles in sketch shows like Saturday Night Live and The Kroll Show. But here she offers a grounded and beautifully raw portrait of a vulnerable young woman desperate to make sense of her crumbling life. Yet for all its high-drama potential, Obvious Child stays true to its humorous heroine, always finding joy and laughs that keep the tone light and often jubilant. And Slate has a killer sense for comedy, offering silly faces, snappy one-liners and stark physical comedy with a quirky but undeniable charm.
Bolstering this compelling comedy is a supporting cast that includes Jake Lacy as her affable love interest, Gabe Liedman as her snarky gay friend, Gaby Hoffman as her fiercely loyal bestie, Richard Kind as her coddling, Muppet-constructing father, and Polly Draper as her pushy professor mother. Hoffman is a standout, offering the latest in her string of mesmerizing characters who are outspoken, feminist, and no-nonsense. But each performance adds to Obvious Child's vibrancy, while creating a richer texture for the bewildering world of its hysterical heroine.
Ultimately, Obvious Child is a fantastically frank and very funny comedy about the messy parts of life, for better and worse. With its unafraid approach and wonderfully flawed heroine, it's brilliant and bright, and a perfect compliment to TV comedies like Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City.