The Wisconsin Film Festival feature Obvious Child centers on two not-quite-children: Donna (Saturday Night Live alum Jenny Slate), a cash-strapped young comedian struggling with the responsibilities of adulthood, and the fetus she discovers she's carrying after a one-night stand. The film is named after the Paul Simon song "The Obvious Child," whose lyric "It's strange that some rooms are like cages" resonates as Donna jokes her way through New York City bars, bedrooms and health clinics. Though Simon's track adds ambiance to the movie's soundtrack, Slate's gangbusters performance and Gillian Robespierre's daring script will steal your heart -- and perhaps break it.
Slate and Robespierre achieve an extremely difficult goal. They make a genuinely funny romantic comedy about a divisive, unfunny subject: abortion. This approach is bound to offend and alienate some viewers, but perhaps it will convince others to see the procedure as a complicated human experience rather than a political issue. After all, comedy has some magical qualities, like helping people sympathize with the plights of their neighbors and cope with some of life's most depressing realities. Supporting characters played by comedians David Cross (Arrested Development, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret) and Gabe Liedman (Kroll Show, Inside Amy Schumer) provide enjoyable examples of people on different ends of the self-awareness spectrum.
If jokes about bodily fluids make you queasy, you may need some Dramamine for the standup set that opens the film. But don't let the scatological aspects of Obvious Child send you running for the restrooms. Peeing in public helps two of the main characters form a romantic bond, and it's actually quite charming. Another scene, in which Donna and a pal (Gaby Hoffmann) await the results of a pregnancy test beside a toilet, shows how ignoring the boundaries of good taste can strengthen a friendship. What transpires in this restroom feels more genuine than anything the bathtub-sharing friends in Girls have portrayed.
Obvious Child does take some cues from Lena Dunham's HBO hit and other Millennial coming-of-age tales. Donna is a talented comedian, but she seems unsure of her path in life and confused about why some of her choices turn out so badly. She's surprised that her boyfriend (Paul Briganti) dumps her after she ridicules their sex life onstage. She can't remember most of a haphazard intimate encounter with one of her mom's business students (Jake Lacy), and she has trouble figuring out how she feels about him when she realizes he's quite different from the guys she usually dates. (As her mother sagely notes, her type tends to be "smelly.") Of course, Donna gains perspective -- and great comic material -- when she analyzes her actions. She just struggles to apply these lessons offstage.
I won't reveal exactly how Slate and Robespierre find humor in the shock, pain and absurdity of an unplanned pregnancy, because observing that feat is one of the great joys of watching Obvious Child. I can tell you that they're ready for a spotlight much brighter than the one that shines on Donna.