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MOVIES: Obvious Child

Obvious childThe first question everyone will ask about Obvious Child, is: does it live up to its buzz as the funniest abortion comedy you’ll see this year? Well, as Jack Palance would say in City Slickers,  the year ain’t over yet.

Gillian Robespierre’s debut directorial effort stars Jenny Slate as Donna, a bookstore worker with an awkward standup comedy habit who loses her boyfriend and job in the first few minutes of the movie.

The post-breakup/job loss recovery is met with gentle satire of the usual single-girl cliches that have been around since the first Cathy cartoons: red wine consumed from jelly jars, followed by drunk dialing the ex (and his new girlfriend).

Next from the single-girl playbook is the obligatory one-night-stand with a stranger met in a bar, the adorably buttoned-down Max (Jake Lacy), which results in the unintended pregnancy that drives the narrative. From there, there are a couple cinematic routes available: Laura Dern in Citizen Ruth or Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up.

Obvious Child opts for the road less traveled: the Sarah Silverman path. It’s the comedy school that says women are just as scatologically obsessed with bodily function confessional humor as men are, and are twice as hilarious at it. Fans of Slate’s standup and work on SNL might well fall into this camp, but there’s no denying that it’s tough to build an entire movie around it. Pulling off a comedy about a stand-up comic who isn’t very funny is a tough trick, regardless of budget (see also, Adam Sandler, Funny People).

Despite the polarizing subject matter (what to do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy?!), the politics here are relatively mild, channeling any potentially strident dialogue through one character, Donna’s supportive best friend, played by Gaby Hoffman. Nothing about the scenario is presented as too much of a conundrum, as no one watching the movie could possibly think that Donna is remotely capable of successfully managing a pregnancy in a healthy manner, much less being a parent.

Polly Draper (thirtysomething) plays Donna’s accomplished academic mother who’s disappointed that her daughter’s “wasted that 780 verbal,” and relieved that accidental pregnancy is the bad news she’s hearing from her under-achieving daughter — far preferable to a move to LA. (Draper would be wonderful if she hadn’t tragically affected an inexplicable accent.) Comedic genius David Cross is perfect as the awkwardly bitter spurned comedy club booker.

Who’s the audience? Movie fans drawn to the gross scatological R-rated comedies of the Farrelly brothers are usually…boys and men. And it’s hard to imagine that demographic showing up for a rom-com, especially a small indie like this. On the other hand, movie fans who might be dying for anything outside the summer blockbuster or R-rated Seth Rogen comedy, will justifiably expect humor that’s a little more sophisticated than public urination and fart jokes. Niche-wise, Obvious Child shares common ground with John Turturro’s recent directorial effort, Fading Gigolo, another small indie-com, in which Woody Allen implausibly becomes Turturro’s accidental pimp.  Both movies pivot on a modestly controversial sex-related premise, and both include the obligatory closing of a small independent bookstore. Either would be fine for a Saturday night on Sundance Channel.

Despite reviews to the contrary, Obvious Child isn’t so much edgy, as it is awkward. It occupies a charmingly anachronistic old-fashioned rom-com universe, where 20-somethings still get pregnant to a Paul Simon soundtrack.