The good news about living and watching movies in 2014 is that by now, finally, the romantic comedy HAS BEEN somewhat reclaimed and saved from itself. FINALLY we’ve come to a point where for every Katherine Heigl or Amanda Seyfried fiasco (and they’ve all been fiascos, because, trust me: I’ve seen them all), there is an actually not just one but SEVERAL lovely, smart, funny, endearingly heartbreaking films popping up showing seemingly real people interacting with other seemingly real people, making mistakes and falling in (and, yes sometime out of) love in the process. Obvious Child which opens this Friday (just in time for Father’s Day weekend!) joins that shelf in your heart’s movie library on which Celeste & Jesse Forever, Bridesmaids, Safety Not Guaranteed, In A World, Young Adult (though I’ll admit that one was more of a horror really), 50/50, Like Crazy, Frances Ha, Drinking Buddies,etc.
The film, which came out of a short movie by its writer/director Gillian Robespierre, centers on a few weeks in the life of a young Brooklyn dweller and stand-up comic Donna Stern (played by Jenny Slate, in a slacker star making turn). These few weeks, starting in January, kick off with Donna somewhat unceremoniously getting dumped by her boyfriend (who has been sleeping with one of her friends, adding insult to injury) and losing her job in a matter of 24 hours. Survival mechanisms kicking into high gear, she does what everyone would do in her position: comfort eats, discomfort overloads on voicemail messaging, comfort drinks, discomfort stalks her ex, comfort drinks some more, discomfort crashes and burns on a stage and finally comfort hooks-up with a total stranger, a nice, smart kid named Max in slip-on shoes (a perfectly cast Jake Lacy). And, yes, she ends up pregnant. And decides to have an abortion. Because it really (truly) is the only educated option for her in the situation in which she is in. She has to wait a few weeks to do it (since it is pretty early in the game and these are the rules, and life is sometimes about rules, even if those rules suck), so the movie follows our heroine as those next few weeks develop, full of doubt, crippling anxiety, but also future possibilities.
There are many things to delight in as those days unravel on the big screen in front of us:
- the snappy yet naturalistic dialogue (“Pee-Farter” is maybe my new favorite descriptive even if I don’t really know how often I’ll get to use it in real life, though, you know, fingers crossed)
- the new kind of romantic heroine Jenny Slate was seemingly born to play (gorgeous but not necessarily beautiful, she is a perfect juxtaposition of female softness and sharp angles, delivering (flirtatious) lines such as “I’ve peed in every pool I’ve ever been in” and hiding in boxes to avoid dealing with humanity with the kind of casualness that makes the viewer identify her as a potential best (girl) friend almost instantly)
- a great supporting cast, with Gaby Hoffman continuing her post-Girls streak as a great BFF, Gabe Liedman as the other sidekick, and David Cross utilizing all his smarmy David Crossness to maximum effect
- Jake Lacy as a one-night-stand you can truly, honestly, unabashedly root for
- and a sort of a loose-but-focused structure that gets us from point A to point B efficiently yet with obvious care for the bumps in the road.
Obvious Child is, sure, technically an abortion comedy but classifying it JUST that (even though all the abortion related moments are handled beautifully, including a particularly heartbreaking, deeply human over-head shot of the procedure itself) is almost as bad as calling it a “Female centric Knocked Up.” Everyone, please stop calling it that: Knocked Up was a very depressing, sorta mysoginistic movie, and I do love Judd Apatow normally, but the Katherine Heigl effect was too strong to overcome.
Obvious Child is so much more than that.
It is a timely, honest look at what modern romance can be and often is. Sometimes things get messy and sometimes those strangers you meet are possibly the “nicest, best possible strangers you can meet” and owning your mistakes and victories equally and, well, being human is ok as is not being afraid to admit to it, even if sometimes that happens on a stage. Sometimes those mistakes end up being more like missteps and we have to focus on the bigger picture in order to make it through to the inevitable next stage (nothing is the end of the world, the movie screams/whispers/hi-fives at us from every corner). Obvious Child is a good movie through and through but it is also partially A GREAT movie because all (surprising?) optimism aside, it doesn’t try to tie up things all too neatly. It clocks in at a trim 83 minutes (kudos to everyone involved for not trying to stretch a short movie into an “epic”) and while some people may have thought that at some point, as Max and Donna start being in the same room more and more, things would take a sudden turn for the “and now we raise this kid together” route, Robespierre and Slate are too empathetic and honest of filmmakers to try and serve us that/any cloying pre-packaged happiness.
Instead, the movie ends with a great start: two people, who don’t quite know each other that well (so, really, ANYTHING could happen) and a first viewing for both of them of a movie that brought us the immortal line (uttered by a very modern woman of her time): “I’ll Think About It Tomorrow”. Tomorrow, for Max, Donna, everyone – is a brand new day, after all, and Obvious Child celebrates that. Possibility as an ending is the happiest ending of all (maybe)?
Now, everyone go see this and then lets meet on my couch for a marathon of all of the movies I listed above so we can emerge from this with a regained sense of hope for love, friendship, humanity and yes, romantic comedies, too.