Obvious Child: Coping With Comedy
By Brock Wilbur · June 3, 2014
Back in 2009, Judd Apatow released Funny People which was pitched by him as both the most realistic cinematic representation of the world of standup comedy, but also an exploration of near death experiences and how the carpe diem lifestyle such experiences promote cannot be sustainable. As a standup comic myself, the relationship I have towards that film is exceptionally complicated, and when I revisit it I find elements fluctuate in their honesty, or evolve in my relation to them. Consistently, it remains a mix of both fiasco and failure, submarined by bloated a third act in which Apatow can't resist spotlighting his family and even playing their home movies, which gets pretty far away from its two excellent premises. All pros and cons aside, the death blow of Funny People dwells in its meta-narrative and the legacy of what followed. The film centered on Adam Sandler, playing a thinly veiled Adam Sandler character, who looks back on his lifetime of awful low-brow comedy features and finds no joy. As Sandler was starting to dabble in more serious films (this being one of them) it seemed like the man who had made Don't Mess With The Zohan was channeling genuine growth. In the last year, he's released both Grown Ups 2 and Blended, choices that prove in a very Patrick Bateman sense, that his punishment still eludes him and there has been no greater understanding, and it makes each progressive screening of Funny People that much more difficult to swallow.
I mention this pitfall because my greatest joy in Obvious Child is knowing that time will never twist its value, because the comedic voice in its spotlight is the most honest version of our leading lady.
Director/Writer Gillian Robespierre's debut feature focuses on upcoming New York comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate of Kroll Show and SNL) whose boyfriend leaves her for a friend just before she loses her job, leading to a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy of The Office) and possibly a pregnancy. There is so much to love here, from the 83 minute run-time (which I am convinced is the perfect movie length) to the star-making turn from Slate who has long deserved this kind of opportunity. Minor roles from Richard Kind, David Cross, Gabe Liedman, and Gaby Hoffmann add bursts of fun exactly where they are needed, and each beat of Slate's comedy rise and fall rings true.
While the film presents a very honest view of indie comedy, it's pairing with the pregnancy allows for standup to be the character's coping mechanism. When Slate does a set trying to work through the timeline and options presented to her, it isn't because she's exploiting the situation for laughs, rather she is working through a problem out loud in a way she never could alone or with friends or even the boy who knocked her up.
While Obvious Child likes to pretend that it is portraying the arrested development of the late twenty-something who hides from the real world behind fart jokes and silly voices, it actually presents a view of what adulthood has become, in a time when responsibility and control need not correlate to serious natures or disposable income. It's a far stretch from Apatow comedies where even the forty-somethings can't stop making obviously poor choices to watch these "new adults" make surprisingly grown-up decisions throughout, while keeping the laughs coming.
Obvious Child is well worth tracking down.