Obvious Child

Review by Oliver Lyttelton

Directed by

Gillian Robespierre


Christian McHenry Jenny Slate Josh Ruben


Lots of Sundance buzz, but we’ve been burned before.


One of the fresher and funnier recent rom-coms.

In Retrospect.

Smart, progressive and sensitive.

Actor and stand-up Jenny Slate shines in this romantic comedy which faces up to the realities of abortion.

A few years back, two of the biggest and most talked-about comedy movies were Knocked Up and Juno. Both had the same essential set-up: a young woman gets unexpectedly pregnant, causing hilarity and romance to ensue. But many were puzzled at best (and shocked at worst) that, in a 21st century film, the possibility of a leading character terminating a pregnancy was essentially glossed over. Judd Apatow, director of Knocked Up, defended the decision, saying that the film would be ‘15 minutes long’ if his lead did have an abortion. But along comes Obvious Child, which seems to set out to lock horns with both that statement, and the two earlier films.

One of the buzzier premieres of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, first-time feature director Gillian Robespierre’s film, an expansion of her 2009 short of the same name, is not dissimilar in its narrative make-up to Juno and Knocked Up. Stand-up comedian Donna (Jenny Slate) loses her job and her boyfriend in a matter of days and, drowning her sorrows, falls into bed with handsome stranger Max (Jake Lacy). A few weeks pass, and Donna realises that she might not have been as careful as she thought, because it turns out that she’s very pregnant.

The paths diverge from there, though. Unlike her predecessors in this sub-genre, Slate’s character immediately decides that she doesn’t want a child and arranges an abortion, though she’ll have to wait a few weeks for it. It’s a refreshing move, reflecting a decision that many women Donna’s age would probably take. And the film makes no bones about the other women in her life, including her best friend, played by the suddenly omnipresent Gaby Hoffmann, and her mother, played by Polly Draper, having had similar experiences.

Not that the decision is taken lightly or treated with glib abandon: it’s unsentimental about the prospect, but there is real dramatic weight behind it too, much of it thanks to a performance of impressive range and intensity by Slate, an unfamiliar name over here (she’s best known for a year-long run on Saturday Night Live), but one that’s unlikely to remain that way for long.

Beyond its big, button-pushing talking point, the film isn’t especially groundbreaking: it’s a Brooklyn-by-way-of-Park-City Apatowian romantic comedy. But it’s a particularly well-executed one, sharply scripted, compassionately played and with a drawn-from-life truthfulness at its core. Scenes unfold organically and without much in the way of contrivance, and the chemistry between Slate and Lacy (familiar from the US The Office, and a winning and welcome presence here) is palpable.

Some may dismiss the film as ‘just’ a rom-com, but given the dire state of the genre, it’s a great pleasure to see one that’s as funny, deep and well-formed as this one. But it’s the willingness to take on one of mainstream cinema’s last taboos that makes the film feel not just hugely enjoyable, but also important to boot.

Published 29 Aug 2014

Tags: Gillian Robespierre Jenny Slate


Lots of Sundance buzz, but we’ve been burned before.


One of the fresher and funnier recent rom-coms.

In Retrospect.

Smart, progressive and sensitive.

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