New York city’s streets have always bustled with rom-coms. From Woody Allen’s Manhattan to Daryl Wein’s Lola Versus, romantic strife in ‘The Big Apple’ is as ubiquitous as its yellow taxicabs. Obvious Child is the spunky low-slung debut of Gillian Robespierre, roaming along the same lovelorn sidewalks.
We open in a Brooklyn dive bar, with stand-up Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) doing her routine of self-deprecating Jewish jokes and a comedic bit about her butt-clenching boyfriend troubles, neatly framing the film’s unflinching view of the world from the perspective of a twenty-something woman, wrestling with adulthood.
Donna’s slacker-ish existence is hit by the one-two punch of losing her smelly boyfriend Ryan (Paul Briganti) to a skinnier rival, as well as her job at the local bookstore after its owner is unable to pony up the landlord’s skyrocketing rent, all in the same week. Donna gets herself into a drunken answering machine meltdown that’s reminiscent of Swingers ‘Hi, this is Nikki. Leave a message’ scene, and it is no less cringeworthy.
With Donna’s life in a downward spiral, it’s up to BFF’s Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) and Joey (Gabe Liedman) to try and steady the ship with a stream of stoic advice and off-the-cuff quips. A sozzled stand-up set leads to Donna hooking up with the nerdy but charming Max (Jake Lacy), along with this year’s best pre-coital question, (“Did you know, Hulk Hogan’s name is Terry?”). The fallout from their night of unprotected passion is an unwanted pregnancy that starts a millennial courtship in reverse.
Jenny Slate lights up the screen with her warm and honest, and above all funny, performance, which anchors the film’s dramatic underpinnings that deal with the subject of abortion. Robespierre’s well-observed script is concerned with the realities of life rather than passing moral judgement. Interestingly, Obvious Child has the look and feel of a pilot episode that fits comfortably alongside HBO’s Girls but with infinitely more heart. As the credits roll there’s a definite hunger to see Donna and co’s continuing adventures in ‘The City That Never Sleeps’… and heartbreak is never far away.