There was no place better than Industry City for a screening of a film so central to Brooklyn. Set up in between looming warehouses, the atmosphere of the opening night for Rooftop Films’ 2014 Summer Series was relaxed as people mingled and found seats. Indie and Brooklyn-based band Rumors performed a long thirty-minute set preceding the film’s screening, playing several similar, soothing harmonies that provided nice background noise. Rumors vocalist and bassist Chris Bordeaux also composed the soundtrack for Obvious Child.
Originally a short film she worked on with Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm, Gillian Robespierre’s talent and continued passion for the film shines through the feature length version of Obvious Child. Perhaps as a result of creating the short, the story of film’s final form is complex yet solid.
Set in Brooklyn, the film follows Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a comedian in her late twenties going through several crises at once: getting dumped, getting fired, and getting pregnant. Though Donna seems to be going through a dark time, the comedy isn’t necessarily always dark—yet the story isn’t unrealistic, either.
From start to finish, Obvious Child induced non-stop laughter from the audience as a result of the perfect combination of a brilliantly organic performance from comedian and actor Jenny Slate, with a solid screenplay from writer and director Gillian Robespierre. In the Q&A following the screening, Robespierre described the first time she and the film’s co-writers saw Slate perform her stand-up routine. “We either wanted to be her best friend or put her in our film.”
Robespierre also mentioned how she was “fed up” with most of today’s romantic comedy films, especially ones that involve girls getting accidentally pregnant. Slate agreed with Robespierre that “[the film] has everyday comedy” and realistic dialogue.
When Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy), it’s obvious that he’ll be the love interest. The two do have chemistry; even in spite of what Max accidentally does to Donna in the alley when they first meet. But though their relationship is charming and not unlike that between the main characters of Knocked Up, it is definitely not the main focus, or most interesting aspect, of the story.
But vastly unlike romantic comedies—and in particular, accidental pregnancy—centered-films, Obvious Child includes abortion. Not all accidental pregnancies end with the woman having the baby, Robespierre pointed out. Abortion is a touchy subject, but somehow Robespierre included it without giving off a political tone. In fact, the film itself didn’t really give the impression that the story was just about abortion or that it was a “comedy about abortion,” as the Q&A moderator suggested.
Like Slate implied, the comedy of Obvious Child is present throughout in a natural flow, lacking any sitcom-y vibes. With that comes with female-centered comedy bits—both in Donna’s stand-up routine and in her life in general—that haven’t really been spoken about in other comedies with strong-leading ladies. The brilliant comedy and multi-dimensional character all come together through a role literally made for Slate, which she fits perfectly with her wittiness and despite her lack of acting experience.
Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect were just the beginning. Not only does Obvious Child destroy the weirdly common notion that “women aren’t funny” —it redefines what romcom should be.
By Zoe Halsne