If mainstream entertainment like HBO’s Girls and Frances Ha (2013) have done anything, they‘ve elevated the platforms for women in the entertainment industry to share their views and opinions and explore issues and debates within modern feminine society. Following suit is Gillian Robespierre’s debut feature Obvious Child (2014), an expansion of her 2009 short film of the same name that chronicled the crises a young woman faces when she becomes pregnant. Reprising her role as said woman, Donna, is American actress and stand-up comic Jenny Slate, who brings an air of authenticity to a character with whom she shares many notable traits.
A twenty-something bookstore clerk-cum-comedienne who spends her evenings sharing her soul at a comedy bar in Brooklyn, Donna seems to face one neurotic trauma after another as she continues to comprehend post-collegiate immobility, much to the displeasure of her disapproving parents. Reeling from losing her job and a recent messy breakup, Donna stumbles – after easing the pain with copious booze – into a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy), the ramifications of which exacerbate her steady roster of big, life-altering decisions. After discovering her pregnancy, Donna immediately resolves to have it aborted as soon as possible, a choice she’s outwardly confident about as she begins to comprehend and confront the harsh realities of independent womanhood.
Similar to Lena Dunham’s aforementioned examination of the angst experienced and shared between a group of young intellectual women toppling headfirst towards happiness, Robespierre’s film is a thoughtful depiction of a still taboo subject that’s continually shied away from in popular culture. Expanding the story from its original roots allows the writer-director to open up the conversation and invite a wider response, something aided by a biting and self-deprecating sense of humour.
Using comedy as a go-to outlet for purging her thoughts, fears and desires – albeit with a painfully honest, sexually frank bent – Donna is by turns charming and risqué, a Sarah Silverman-esque millennial caught in the mire of an indifferent city, excellently played by the instantly likable Slate. Equally engaging and identifiable are the representations of the both financial and personal concerns young people face in the gloomy period after the 2008 collapse, a time where growing up seems like a constant uphill battle. Though it’s more gently humorous than all-out funny, Obvious Child is a charismatic indie dramedy that should nevertheless be praised for sticking to its progressive sensibilities and outlooks whilst refraining from giving in to genre tropes and narrative stereotypes, however clichéd it occasionally appears.