Donna is a stand-up comedian working the back room of a bar in Brooklyn for no money during nights, whilst living off the limited wages of working at an indie book store closing down in the near future, but her life begins to cycle dramatically when her boyfriend announces he’s been seeing another friend of theirs for a while, and now he and she are a ‘we’ instead of him and Donna. This sends Donna’s stand-up into something more than the personal and low-brow that it usually is, it takes it to the dark and sad. After a particularly bad set, she meets a sweet young man, Max, and they have a fun night. A bit too fun, as a few weeks later she finds she is pregnant. How can she deal with trying to have a relationship with Max and avoid the social anxiety of telling him about the pregnancy and the planned abortion?
Thankfully Obvious Child handles all of this in completely interesting ways that move away from any formula of the adult child drama or the pregnancy romance films, and finds a fascinating voice with lead Jenny Slate, who herself is a notable comedian, dealing a lot with crimes of the fart in her act anyway, yet always endearing despite shooting at the low-brow elements. Using stand-up in the way Obvious Child does makes one think of Tig Notaro’s brilliant and one-off set from a few years ago, released under the title Live!, where she dealt with her mother’s recent death and the news that she had cancer through the pain and joy of talking to an audience, and sometimes bringing in laughs, sometimes tears, to the events that happened to her. The final stand-up set in particular in Obvious Child feels like that raw, off-the-cuff but honestly not sad as much as realising the darkness and the humour of the situation play in the same hand.
Slate’s central performance is magnificent. Her recent character arc in Showtime’s House Of Lies had her pull out some real emotional beats, the most genuine of season 3’s, whilst in stark contrast her work on shows like Parks And Recreation and The Kroll Show show her silly, goofy and fun-dumb side. Obvious Child shows both as one entity, and whilst some of the topics she broaches are crude and disgusting, the character is enjoyable and lovable beyond those moments. As the final scene plays out, feeling complete and yet offering an openness that doesn’t threaten the film’s quality, there’s a feeling of warmth and love in the film, a genuinely lovely and sweet feeling that isn’t expected during Donna’s opening set about vaginas, farts and her (soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend’s penis. Obvious Child is pretty extraordinary but never screams from the rooftop, understated, well written and performed, and with additional great performances from David Cross, Richard Kind and Gaby Hoffman, it’s one to catch and enjoy as soon as possible.