'Obvious Child' raises questions for a pregnant unwed comedian

2014-06-26T11:30:00Z 2015-12-13T10:23:21Z 'Obvious Child' raises questions for a pregnant unwed comedianBy Joe Williams joewilliams@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8344 stltoday.com

There are more movie comedies about murder than you could possibly count. There are also funny films about the three big subjects we’re not supposed to discuss in polite company: race, religion and politics. There are even comedies about cannibalism (“Eating Raoul”), attempted suicide (“Harold and Maude”) and Nazi prison camps (“Stalag 17,” which begat the sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes”). But very few films have used abortion for the basis for a comedy.

In Alexander Payne’s satirical “Citizen Ruth,” drug-addicted unwed mother Laura Dern was the fulcrum for pro-life and pro-choice crusaders. Yet legal abortion remains so divisive that Payne didn’t choose a side of the picket line.

To be fair, “Obvious Child” is not a comedy about abortion, but along with “Juno” and “Love with the Proper Stranger,” it belongs on the short list of entertaining films about unwanted pregnancy.

Writer/director Gillian Robespierre would undoubtedly be grateful if we put down the placards and talked about her hilarious script or the breakout performance of Jenny Slate. And Slate would be grateful if we didn’t refer to her as a short-lived cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” (I watch that show religiously, yet I have no recollection of her tenure in 2009.)

Slate is a revelation as Donna, a thirtysomething stand-up comic based in Brooklyn. True to her vocation, she performs confessional, close-to-the-bone comedy for small audiences at a neighborhood bar. One night, her boyfriend hears yet another routine about their complicated relationship and announces that he’s dumping her. (Cue the voice-mail meltdown, stolen from “Swingers.”) Soon thereafter, Donna loses her day job at a bookstore.

In the aftermath of the double whammy, she hooks up with nice-guy bar patron Max (Jake Lacy). Like so much else in the film, their rambunctious one-night stand careens across the line between funny and uncomfortable.

Although it’s tempting to say that her ensuing pregnancy is no laughing matter, Donna incorporates it into her stand-up routine, even as she avoids further contact with Max. But the love-struck puppy tracks her down, just in time for a very vexing Valentine’s Day.

Competing interest groups are surely sharpening their quill pens to complain about the omissions in this movie: debates about the personhood of the fetus, declarations of women’s rights or even a peep from the prospective father. But this is a comedy about the real world, a place where a troubled young woman might discover that her mother (Polly Draper) wrestled with the same issues years earlier.

Sorry, partisans, but there’s nothing obvious about “Obvious Child.”

What “Obvious Child” • Three stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 1:24 • Content Adult language and sexual content • Where Plaza Frontenac

Joe Williams is the film critic of the Post-Dispatch and the author of the book "Hollywood Myths." Follow him on Twitter @joethecritic

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