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Review: 'Obvious Child' is rom-com with a bold side

Jenny Slate, starring with Jake Lacy in Obvious Child, uses her bawdy sense of humor to great effect.
Published Jun. 26, 2014

Obvious Child is a nervy romantic comedy in which the pathway to love runs through an abortion clinic. It's a movie as unfiltered as its unexpectedly pregnant hero, Donna Stern, a standup comedian who can appreciate the irony of an abortion being scheduled on Valentine's Day.

Donna is played tart-tongued and with an abundance of mopey, millennial charm by Jenny Slate, best known for dropping an f-bomb on Saturday Night Live that got her fired from the show. Slate still has that adorably soapable mouth, and Donna's open mic hobby, bawdily riffing on her lady parts and boyfriend, sets Gillian Robespierre's movie on its appealing way.

The boyfriend is in the audience, and after the show, he'll dump Donna, sending her on a spiral of drunk dialings and some "light stalking," leading to a fateful one-night stand with a stranger named Max (Jake Lacy). Then he comes back, showing interest in dating, and Donna's decision to have an abortion is his business, too, if she manages to tell him.

Obvious Child is remarkably forthright about the abortion process that women go through, from home testing to Planned Parenthood counseling to the recovery room. Donna's friend Nellie (an on-point Gaby Hoffmann) and her mother (Polly Draper) offer Donna support through conversations about their experiences, with a simple honesty seldom heard in feature films.

Robespierre does a nice job of balancing the seriousness of this situation with the no-boundaries irreverence of Donna's comedy background. The night before her abortion, Donna is going on stage and Nellie assures her she'll "kill it" out there. "I actually have an appointment to do that tomorrow," Donna says, a comedian's reflex followed by a brief, shared melancholy of saying the wrong thing at an oddly right time. Obvious Child gets those moments right.

The movie stumbles when Robespierre falls into the cuteness trap of romantic comedy construction. Donna gets a few too many quirky moments, like an entire scene — two separate conversations — while sitting inside a cardboard box. The fact that Max is a student in Donna's professor mother's writing course is too serendipitous. The entirety of David Cross' appearance is a dud, a lame attempt at creating tension in Donna and Max's budding relationship. Even in an 80-minute story, it feels like padding.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

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