Obvious Child might be a misleading title.
After all, it’s obvious pretty much from the get-go that there isn’t going to be a child. Once protagonist Donna Stern finds out she’s become pregnant as a result of a drunken tryst, she’s determined to have an abortion.
The idea of injecting such an explosive issue into a romantic comedy is at the very least a brave one. The final result — how the film fares at the box office, especially in the polarized U.S., where abortion continues to be a hot button topic — remains to be seen.
The story opens with late-20s Donna (Jenny Slate) doing a risqué standup set, including a reference to female undergarments that is sure to rattle.
In short order, Donna gets dumped by her boyfriend who’s cheating with her BFF and she finds out she’s losing her day job at Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books (an actual Greenwich Village bookstore that isn’t really closing).
The third calamity — the tryst, followed by an unplanned pregnancy — feels both inevitable and anti-climactic. As the French say, “jamais deux sans trois.”
Thereafter, Donna goes through rather a lot of soul-searching while still being pursued by Max, the father of her unborn child, who’s a rather decent plod of a guy.
The supporting cast, starting with Max (Jake Lacy), is across-the-board excellent, including Gaby Hoffmann as Nellie, Donna’s other BFF, Gabe Liedman as her gay standup companion Joey, and Richard Kind and Polly Draper as her divorced but very supportive parents.
The script, co-written by director Gabrielle Robespierre, is mature and intelligent, although it does suffer from a lack of tension. A sense of uncertainty or that things could go suddenly awry might have helped give the plot’s dramatic arc more heft.
It also deals with the big issue, the A-word, in a way that is both matter-of- fact and forthright. (It’s no accident that the procedure itself takes place on Valentine’s Day.)
So that means there’s a whole lot riding on Slate’s performance as Donna. Does she draw us into her plight? Do we want her to find a certain degree of equanimity after so much turmoil? Is she actually any good as a standup comic?
The answer is yes, yes, yes, in descending degrees of enthusiasm. Slate weeps copiously and becomingly, and delivers her lines with conviction. But like her voice — which tends towards pitchy — her character is a little too grating to be entirely sympathetic.
That minor reservation aside, Robespierre and company deserve high praise for tackling a story with such a difficult subject at its heart, with a combination of grace, humour and courage.