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Review: 'Obvious Child' Is A Seth Rogen Film With Brains

An Nicholson An Nicholson
June 19th, 2014 11:02pm EDT
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Obvious Child

The 'Obvious Child' exemplifies why Hollywood needs more female writers and directors. Rather than the typical Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow vehicle that reduces the female lead to shrillness (*cough, cough* 'Knocked Up'), 'Obvious Child' demonstrates that women can be randy, obnoxious kids without overtly sexualizing its lead, making her 'the girl,' or reducing the narrative to the basic chick lit formula.

Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre and starring former-'SNL' one-termer Jenny Slate, 'The Obvious Child' surrounds female comic Donna Stern. With her babyish voice, childish face, and post-adolescent body nightly cradled by her parents, Donna is clearly the obvious child. Considering her non-existent job, her obsessive stalker tendencies, her miniscule apartment, and her confessional stand-up routines, as a member of the delayed childhood generation, this character clearly should not procreate, let alone have sex. Yet, when Donna finds herself pregnant after a one night stand, abortion appears the obvious choice. Basically, 'Obvious Child' is the inverse 'Juno.'

The film is smart, especially its realistic portrayal of romance. In most rom coms, the amazingly well put together superwoman with her perfect hair, makeup and wardrobe (*cough, cough* 'The Ugly Truth'), feels she must look even more perfect to attract a man. Yet, in 'Obvious Child,' we have make up free Donna with her messy hair, oversized crocs, and unwashed clothes pulling in a totally together love interest who consistently pursues her. Just like it's an inverse 'Juno,' it's also an inverse rom com where the love starts after the lovemaking ends.

Jenny Slate surprises. While her character's stand up routine leaves much to be desired, Jenny's emotional transparency impressed me. I would've assumed she were a dramatic actress off the bat and not an improvisational veteran had I not scanned her background. The cast also surprises with supporting roles featuring a who's who of respected comedy veterans - Richard Kind ('Spin City') as Donna's cool dad who uses sarcasm to motivate, David Cross ('Arrested development') as the established male circuit comic that preys on young female comediennes and Jake Lacy ('The Office'). Jake Lacy, an NBC sitcom vet, equally surprised by sliding into the indie feel and giving the same fresh, rough performance as Jenny as her love interest.

The film is smart and doesn't construct the female body as a mysterious temple. It reveals the truth behind crusty female underpants and doesn't step away from emotional repercussions of having an abortion without demonizing it. I found the Donna's brain show hilarious. Plus, "Unimpressive, Non-Imperialist Books" is the best indie bookshop name ever. My favorite lines included Donna "out doing some light stalking," a covert shoe commentary ("Welcome to Brooklyn where they judge you by your shoes") and anyone's reaction the night after a drunken hookup ("I remember feeling a condom. I just don't know what it did").

The film's motif about balancing the ability to laugh at your problems yet not allow them to overwhelm you indicates maturity. While, initially, Donna is halfway there through her ability to laugh at herself and her pain, she lacks filters with her obsession over a pretentious ex-boyfriend. However, her potential love interest exemplifies adulthood through his ability to mock himself and communicate his interest/concerns without destructively over sharing. Towards the film's end, we see Donna reach that balance through her stand up's evolution from the self-destructive to the self-deprecating. Likewise, in her life, she shifts from torturous self-acts to healthy decisions. In a way, the abortion and the realization of her post-pubescent status catalyze her into adulthood more than the actual pregnancy itself, which goes counter to our Western belief that once you become pregnant it all snaps together.

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Photo Credits: Obvious Child