Jenny Slate elevates the otherwise mediocre ‘Obvious Child’

Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy in Obvious Child.
Mike D'Angelo

Three stars

Obvious Child Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman. Directed by Gillian Robespierre. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Obvious Child isn’t much of a movie—it mostly plays like the expanded short film that it is—but it serves as a superlative showcase for Jenny Slate, a Saturday Night Live alumna whose comic persona was perhaps a bit too spiky for that show. Donna, her alter ego here, is a struggling stand-up comic known for her unflinching honesty onstage, which becomes problematic when a one-night stand with nice guy Max (Jake Lacy) accidentally gets her pregnant.

Written and directed by first-timer Gillian Robespierre, the film is unusually candid about abortion—nobody ever suggests that getting one might be wrong, which qualifies as radical in America—but Robespierre and Slate are more interested in getting laughs than in making a progressive political statement, thankfully.

Trouble is, they just don’t have that much material, and their struggle to get this flimsy, rudderless movie to feature length is apparent in many scenes (like the one featuring David Cross as a friend of Donna’s who belatedly tries to put the moves on her) that feel like filler. Slate, however, is a marvel, equally adept with gleeful vulgarity and understated pathos. Obvious Child is a movie to see just so that you can say that you saw her when.

  • The story’s told from the nostalgic perspective of a teenager discovering his sexuality and experiencing his first love.

  • Only toward the end does director Paul Thomas Anderson’s long game finally become apparent.

  • The bravery of the real soldiers is buried under a mountain of hokey sentiment and rah-rah bluster.

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