Recent lo-fi Brooklynite comedies such as Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2013) and Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture (2010) feel positively old-hat compared with Gillian Robespierre’s bracing Obvious Child (2014), which is funnier and more urgent than both.
Robespierre and her breakout star Jenny Slate give us a feminist comedy about abortion, but still this is one of the cutest romantic comedies of recent years – although you’ll have to think carefully whether to take your date. Donna Stern (Slate) is one of those comics who puts her life into her act. She opens with scatological jokes about dirty knickers and flatulence, before launching into her her boyfriend and her Jewish New York family.
This is much to the chagrin of her boyfriend, who dumps her for broadcasting their sex life to the public in her sets – although really it’s because he’s cheating on her with her “bitch” best friend. After a particularly rough gig at her local comedy club – where she states she wants to “murder-suicide” her ex – she meets straight-laced, jumper-wearing business school type Max (Jake Lacy), “so Christian he’s a Christmas tree”, and has what she believes to be an inconsequential one-night stand. Max tries haplessly to get back in contact afterwards which surprises Donna, but nothing like the surprise she’ll get when she learns she’s pregnant. The moment when Slate explains to her roomie (Gabby Hoffman) “I remember seeing a condom but don’t know, like, exactly what it did,” could hardly be funnier.
Donna decides to terminate, which might have spelt the death knell of Obvious Child’s comic values, but thankfully her eking out the truth to an unknowing Max is a riot. Dinner dates, comedy gigs and a scene in which Donna’s at such a low point she hides in a box full of books, all lead to an eventual date with destiny at an abortion clinic on Valentine’s Day. This is a film of ideas, but it’s a comedy first, and its boldness is that it doesn’t aim to address a pro-choice or pro-life stance – it’s about Donna just getting on with it all the same. And that’s the highest achievement of Slate and director Robespierre – they’ve shown an issue that’s now everyday, one that’s typically pompous into one that now reveals scope for fresh comedy. Slate is wonderful as the lead, messy and crass on stage but never inauthentic. Similarly fantastic are Richard Kind and Polly Draper as her divorced parents, and even David Cross cameos a vest-wearing, self-loving comic.
Sundance London 2014 takes place at the O2 Arena from 25-27 April. For more of our coverage, follow this link.