July 2, 2014

Review: Jenny Slate Chooses the 'Obvious Child'

Jenny Slate Obvious Child

Comedian Jenny Slate is both effortlessly captivating and simultaneously hilarious as the titular Obvious Child. First time writer/director Gillian Robespierre refreshingly explores the nature of female-centric relationships and situations, expanding on her 2009 short film, also starring Slate, and named after the Paul Simon song that appears in a moving montage. It's a film about choices and consequences from the perspective of (not so) young women.

Slate plays Donna, a struggling stand-up comedian and bookstore clerk who gets dumped and has an awkwardly drunken yet sincerely effecting one night stand with the amiable and sweet Max (Jake Lacy from The Office). Lacy is the perfect straight man and his chemistry with Slate and her raunchy yet genuine humour is amusingly charming. The way the strange romance evolves blended with Donna's therapeutical stand-up material (Slate playing down her comedic stage abilities very well) is quite effective. Small but very on point supporting performances from Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liebman, David Cross, and Richard Kind populate this Brooklyn world of comedy superbly.

The entire film truly rests on Slate's should and similar to Greta Gerwig's naturalistic comedic style. She just owns it effortlessly but with a greater and seamless depth of acting. Her engrossing performance is aces all-around and fearless in its embrace of awkward situations. It's easy to picture this 84-minute feature really happening everyday to any struggling New York woman walking on the street. The film so expertly touches on something every woman either thinks about or experiences (a quarter of them anyway). Mixed in with some serious subject matter are fart jokes and crude comments abound. Not all of these work but they fit together nicely as Robespierre constructs and frames the film as a slice of life type black comedy.

Robespierre even comments slyly about the modern state of women and the romantic comedy as a metaphor for female behaviour. Throughout the sharply scripted and directed film, you never doubt the sense that the storytellers know exactly what they're doing. Every element is so understated while being flat out funny in its execution, almost feeling intimate like a documentary in its exploration of human themes and topics about relationships, self-worth, and growing up.

Slate and Robespierre deftly manage a fine balance of comedy and romance in the context of difficulties concerning late twenty-somethings and contemporary women's issues. It's truly embarrassing there aren't more genuine and honestly funny yet touching experiences from the female perspective put to screen. Obvious Child is non-judgmental while never becoming self-important or preachy as it thoughtfully explores the problems of single women struggling with the onset of adulthood and managing responsibilities.

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