Obvious Child is a romantic comedy told through the eyes of its witty and emotional protagonist, Donna Stern. It is modern and unapologetic; aims to uplift us with Jenna Slate’s strong performance as a directionless amateur comic who embraces her quirkiness, or struggles to, yet her character’s self worth from beginning to end is dependent up men she is or isn’t with. She is likable and shallow, and there is no reason to believe that will change any time after the credits roll.
Given that the characters show no appreciable growth, we are left to dwell on their conflicts – messy relationships and abortion. The former is used structurally, threatening cliche, the latter with flippancy. Each character, and Stern especially, uses comedy as a coping mechanism, so it is no surprise the punchlines remain indiscriminate regardless of topic. You are either comfortable with that or you aren’t. What’s disappointing, is that seems to be the movies general message: it’s not a big deal, find the humor in everything.
I don’t fault Obvious Child for not attempting to walk us through its ethics, but we aren’t given an intellectual motivation for any of the character’s actions. Stern’s abortion is lumped in with her warped self worth and drunken hook up, under the heading ‘such is life,’ and there is no indication why one is any less regrettable than the next.
One telling scene has Stern seeking companionship with an old friend who has always been attracted to her. She begins to open up as he recounts a bad break up, something she had just been through, only to find it a ploy and material for another of his jokes. As she storms out pissed, the hypocrisy is palpable. Obvious Child is emotionally selfish with Stern, and if it has a sermon it is going wholly to the choir.
Luckily Slate gives an impressive emotional depth to her role, one bound to earn Donna Stern more empathy than she deserves. However, underneath the wit and dysfunction is your prototypical thin, beautiful woman awaiting her prince; a Cinderella but with student loans; a Liz Lemon ham-fisting her normalcy uphill. An indie movie with a heart of flashy tropes, not funny enough to excuse itself.