“Obvious Child” has been stigmatized as an “abortion comedy” in the press, but the truth is that labeling as such runs counter to what the picture represents.
While movies usually resort to easy stereotypes, especially when they’re centered on women, this one is about a woman who can’t be easily defined. She’s simultaneously sweet and annoying; she’s smart in some ways and hopeless in others. There’s a streak of self-destructiveness and confidence, too, and above all a fundamental decentness.
In other words, an abortion might figure into the story, but Gillian Robespierre’s film is really about someone who’s a lot like most of us. She’s Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a struggling 20-something comedian and bookstore employee trying to navigate the pressures of adulthood in New York City — the burdens of dreams threatening to be left unfulfilled, the specter of being a parental disappointment, the pangs of romantic difficulties and the terror of financial struggle.
The picture unfolds in a minor key. At times, it seems almost casual in the transitions from various apartments to the bar where Donna hones her comedy craft.
But the emotional texture is there and at times it’s very deeply felt thanks to an exceptional performance from Slate. The veteran comic performer, with stints on “Saturday Night Live,” “Parks and Recreation” and elsewhere under her belt, demonstrates the gift that sets apart the great actors from the good ones: The ability to move you to tears without saying a word.
Slate pulls that off again and again throughout the picture, in the quiet of the backseat of a cab, in the complicated feelings coloring her face when the future comes calling and in the comfort of a small moment of connection amid a sea of uncertainty.