Life will throw you for a loop sometimes. For Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), it's a merry-go-round of big surprise after big surprise. One night, her boyfriend breaks up with her. Days later, the bookstore where she's worked for five years announces its closing. Then she gets blotto drunk before going on stage to perform stand-up comedy and makes a fool of herself.
Stand-up is Donna's ticket out of this place. This place, incidentally, is New York City, which has seen its share of comics catch fire or flame out. Whether or not there's a joke inside the presentation that Donna's actually not a very good comic is hard to say, but it seems likely that she'll be the last person to give up on her comedy career.
But just when things can't get any worse, Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy), who could not be less her type (and therefore, since this is a movie, more of exactly what she needs). She's drawn to artists and brooding types, and Max is a Brooks Brothers business student with a future on the fast track. On a faster track, however, is his night of unprotected sex with Donna.
Writer-director Gillian Robespierre didn't call her movie Obvious Child for no reason, so you can guess the outcome of the one night stand. Donna decides that, with everything else in her life, she can't keep the baby. And that's where Obvious Child becomes something of an abortion comedy. About the only real criticism you can lay at the feet of this film is that it doesn't give abortion an awful lot of contemplation. Donna knows immediately she doesn't want to see the pregnancy through to term, all her friends support her decision, and it's got about as much dramatic weight as buying a used car.
Strangely, even though she and her mother (Polly Draper) almost never see eye-to-eye and Mom is always second guessing her daughter, when it comes to the most monumental thing that's ever happened to Donna, it's not much of a discussion. So in that sense, this is really not an abortion comedy at all, just a comedy in which someone decides to terminate a pregnancy. And even the comedy seems to die down a little once she's in the family way, so the charm the movie did have is replaced by a sort of procedural nonchalance.
Slate had a brief tour of duty on Saturday Night Live but she never developed a strong stable of recurring characters. If you remember her at all, it might be from an improvised f-bomb her first night on the show. So it's good to see something entirely different and interesting and appealing out of her. She could do a lot worse than pursuing similar roles and projects in the future; this one suits her well. Beyond the stand-up comedy (which generally flops in movies about comedians), Slate is really dialed in here and gives us a character we'd like to get to know.
Max is fairly one-dimensional, but Jake Lacy is likable in that Matt Damon sort of way. There ought to be more to the character then just being the nice guy, and at 84 minutes, there's certainly time to pursue a more complex character and relationship. Oh, and David Cross (Arrested Development) shows up for one peculiar scene, but he's probably best in smallish doses, anyway.
Unfortunately, Obvious Child only finds its way in smallish doses, too. It's engaging at first, has some luck with sad-sack Donna and Slate's embodiment of her, but when the going gets tough, the movie really levels out and runs out of things to say and ways to say it.