“Obvious Child” is a close relative of “Bridesmaids” and HBO’s “Girls.”
Its main character, Donna (Jenny Slate), is an aimless young woman, following dreams that never quite work out while struggling to deal with life’s everyday hassles. She has a close bond with her friends and a complicated history with men, and expresses herself with the blunt, vulgar attitude that has long characterized similar male-centric stories.
But there is one element that sets “Obvious Child” apart from its genre sisters, not to mention almost every other movie ever made: It is completely honest and clear-eyed about abortion. Without melodrama, without cop-out plot twists, writer/director Gillian Robespierre confronts a decision that many women have made but few are willing to discuss.
The “A-word” becomes an issue during Donna’s Worst Month Ever. Her cheating boyfriend dumps her, she loses her job at a local bookstore, and her concerned parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper) are pressuring her to get her act together. Then she finds out she’s pregnant after a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy of “The Office”), a sweet guy she met at the club where she does stand-up. The stand-up isn’t going that well, either.
Naturally, all this is happening close to Valentine’s Day, and even Donna’s kind-hearted buddies (Gaby Hoffmann and Gabe Liedman) can’t make things better. She also genuinely likes Max, which adds an extra level of difficulty.
Most of “Obvious Child” seems improvised, which isn’t surprising given Slate’s own comedy background (you might recognize her as the proudly awful Mona-Lisa on TV’s “Parks and Recreation”). This loose, authentic approach makes it easier to relate to Donna and leads to some hilarious scenes (her drunken post-dumping meltdown is a keeper). It also means that some bits drag on, like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that no one can figure out how to end.
Lacy is a calmly bemused straight man who does as much to keep the dramatic scenes on track as he does to anchor the humor. That’s essential as the story heads toward Donna’s ultimate decision about her pregnancy, and how involved Max is going to be. They’re a great acting team, and thanks to Robespierre’s no-nonsense direction, they’re also a believable couple you want to root for.
Very few romantic comedies actually pull that off, let alone while dealing with an issue as divisive as abortion. “Obvious Child” succeeds because, no matter how raunchy or controversial it gets, it never loses its big, warm, human heart.
(At the Leawood, Studio 30, Tivoli.)
Rated R | Time: 1:23