When twenty-something aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) loses her job, is dumped by her boyfriend and finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after a one-night stand, she suddenly has to face the realities of adulthood and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
What do women’s underpants look like when they’ve been wearing them for a day? The answer isn’t pretty, but Donna Stern (Jenny Slate from SNL and Parks and Recreation) tells the crusty truth and gets a laugh from it. This is how we first meet the twenty-something Jewish beauty as she does fearless open-mic stand-up comedy in a New York club. She tells jokes about the people closest to her (like her boyfriend, who’s mildly complimented for having “a working dick”). But mainly, the jokes are on herself: her immaturity and grossness, and her defiantly “ethnic” appearance, which she says looks like what would happen “if a menorah fucked Natalie Imbruglia.”
It’s important to talk about this leading lady’s looks because they’re just one of the refreshing (and sadly, still subversive) features of Obvious Child, an indie romantic comedy that takes us to the abortion clinic and back. Make no mistake, Donna is beautiful: perfect golden skin, big brown eyes, a luscious mouth and a mane of dark hair. But she’s not blonde, she’s not super-skinny and she has a nose that nobody will ever describe as ‘petite’. She looks like a million adorable New York girls, but not the kind that get play the heroine and snag the cute good-hearted guy – in this case, the WASPy Max (Jake Lacy, from TV’s The Office). We shouldn’t have to congratulate a film for giving us a girl with a big nose (and I admit, I am a girl with my own big Italian nose), but that’s where we are, Hollywood. Writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s offbeat feature debut offers a delightful alternative.
In the space of a week, Donna’s boyfriend breaks up with her, painfully leaving her for a close friend and she loses her part-time job at the “Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Book Store”. Penniless, heartbroken and a little bit unhinged by too much red wine (drunk from jam jars – this is bohemian New York!), Donna has a drunken one-night stand with the buttoned-up Max, who actually has a great sense of humour. A few weeks down the track, a pregnancy test turns up positive. The dilemma for Donna is that she’s starting to fall for this guy, and an abortion isn’t the most romantic way to start a relationship. Except that here, it kind of is.
Statistics suggest about one in three American women will terminate a pregnancy by the time they reach 45. Yet most movies deal with this prosaic reality by introducing a convenient miscarriage, a last minute decision to go through with the pregnancy, or else portraying a tortured heroine who will never recover from the trauma of her decision. The beauty of Obvious Child is that it treats this unfortunate event with both seriousness and humour. The conversations about the procedure between the women involved – Donna’s mother, played by Thirtysomething’s gravelly-voiced Polly Draper, her doctor, and her best friend (a splendid Gaby Hoffman) – are tender, beautiful and pragmatic. The sisterhood is here and seeing it at work, getting on with the business of living, is actually very moving.
Shot in warm golden tones by Chris Teague, this New York story creates a world both familiar (you almost expect Louis CK to wander in and take up the mic next to comedian David Cross, who also appears in a very funny scene) and idealised. Like any good romantic comedy, it’s the chemistry and banter between the leads which makes it soar or sink. Here, that chemistry is so quirky and original and the conversations are so cute and funny that you really can believe a Valentine’s Day in an abortion clinic might lead to true love.