Of all the many year-end lists I read in December, I’ve been having the most fun with one from “Variety” called “The most overlooked films of the year.” This worthy category includes several I have loved, from “Frank” to Margaret Brown’s “The Great Invisible,” so I figure the whole list is pretty trustworthy, which brings us to “Obvious Child,” a wonderful surprise about a touchy subject.
Jenny Slate stars as a twenty-something stand-up comedian who gets unceremoniously dumped by a cheating boyfriend in the film’s first moments. Slate is a funny and compelling woman who was also on “Saturday Night Live” briefly, “Bored to Death” on HBO, “Parks and Recreation” and if you have kids you may know her as the author of “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” That’s a strange and delightful YouTube film she made and voiced and turned into a strange and delightful picture book of which I am quite fond.
Despite the popularity of her alter ego Marcel the Shell, I think we can safely term this role her break-out performance. As Donna, she is vulnerable but not pathetic, and her actions and reactions are entirely believable.
Humiliated and brokenhearted, she meets a cute guy at the comedy club where she performs and hangs out and he charms her despite being a square business type guy instead of a hip comedian. That (plus lots of alcohol) ends in a one night stand and their hook-up, while perhaps ill-advised from a contraceptive standpoint, is fun and satisfying, not debauched and depressing.
Amidst the bummer that her job at a bookstore is coming to an end with its closure, she discovers that she’s pregnant, and no time is spent agonizing over what to do next. She decides to have an abortion.
What makes this film so unusual and, presumably, controversial is that she doesn’t really debate her decision at all. She’s certainly upset and sad, but her choice is pretty matter of fact. I think this is a very refreshing view for many women. In a short and sweet film, she navigates the two weeks she must wait to have the procedure, and decides how to handle the fallout with the father.
The film doesn’t demonize her or make her a hero for what she does; she is simply, as she refers to herself, a female human. Full of humor and humanity, “Obvious Child” is a nicely underplayed character study and its stars bring their characters fully and memorably to life.