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Writing a review of Obvious Child presents some obvious topics. Maybe I could focus on how the film is not just about a woman, but was also written, directed, and produced by women, contributing a perspective that gives this hilarious and emotionally engaging movie a fresh angle on familiar tropes. Or maybe I could discuss the way the movie chooses a plot point that a film like Knocked Up refused to acknowledge, as if the story of someone struggling through their late 20s would automatically grind to a halt without a motivating factor like an impending newborn. Actually, what really stands out about Obvious Child is the fact that despite being filtered through those people or creative choices, it finds its humor and heart in a straightforward story about normal people.
The film follows Donna (Jenny Slate), a stand-up comedian who enjoys fart humor and expressing very personal observations through her comedy. Some of those observations are about her boyfriend, who dumps her after a show in a co-ed bathroom, confessing he's been sleeping with another woman in between glances at his phone. The bad news for Donna continues in the morning when she arrives at the bookstore where she works and is informed they're going out of business. The next night, she goes on stage again and performs the most depressing set of her career, then has a one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy), a cute tech developer with slip-on shoes and a good sense of humor. A couple of weeks later, the trifecta of bad news is complete: she's pregnant with Max's child.
The 2000s and early '10s have seen the rise of the man-child in American comedy movies, each of them on a journey to adulthood, or at least a compromise with it. The few female-driven comedies that have slipped through the cracks in filmmaking's glass ceiling have generally been similar, about 30-something women making poor decisions of their own. What's different about Obvious Child is that writer / director Gillian Robespierre (working off of a short film she co-wrote with Anna Bean and Karen Maine, and a story co-written with producer Elisabeth Holm) isn't worried about Donna's maturity level. Donna may still laugh when a man steps in dog poop (the film is as foul-mouthed as it is charming, and it's very charming), and losing her job is certainly a source of frustration, but she's not falling apart at the seams. Worries about bills and jobs are just a backdrop that inform her current emotional state, rather than a summarization of who she is as a person, and Robespierre doesn't spend the whole movie dumping crap on Donna as per the rom-com playbook.
That disassociation of character from situation is also true jumping up to the film and its plot. Donna decides to have an abortion and is conflicted about how or whether or not to tell Max about it, but the movie isn't about that complicated confession. The film's thrust springs from intimacy and connections between people, from Donna's caustic roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) to her parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper). Each relationship shades in another aspect of Donna to consider as we watch her navigate through her situation with sardonic semi-grace. In these scenes, Robespierre deftly slips around cliches about the way people interact with parents and friends, updating scenes that might be familiar with a refreshing dose of normalcy. One scene, with a fellow comedian (David Cross) is interesting in the way it illustrates the minute but crucial difference between Donna deciding to leave because of his actions, and his actions causing Donna to decide to leave. Of course, the most emotionally potent (if not most important) relationship is between Donna and Max, which is as sharp and funny as one might expect from a modern screwball comedy. Lacy brings the right amount of gentleness and warmth to the role that bounces perfectly off of Donna's biting, dirty wit.
Underneath all of it, the film rests on Jenny Slate's capable shoulders. She's endearingly awkward: she laughs at her own jokes, is attracted to bodily functions and sexual interaction, and frequently interjects with profanity at just the right moment, but even her funniest moments are rooted in the realism that Robespierre establishes. Donna is a complex and rewarding character, and Slate nails every moment of it, keeping Donna in the realm of the relatable when so many comedic actors might have struggled to resist amping up Donna's self-deprecation like a cartoon character. Slate's hilarious, but her dramatic moments are the ones that linger: her nervous visit to the doctor's office to confirm her pregnancy, a tearful conversation with her mother at an emotional low point, and the genuine relief and comfort of a hug in a waiting room. Obvious Child doesn't change the brush strokes of the romantic comedy, simply injects truth and sincerity into the details those strokes are painting. Ending an unplanned pregnancy has never been so sweet.
Lionsgate and A24 bring Obvious Child to Blu-ray with its poster art basically intact, featuring Slate looking up at the viewer over a pink backdrop. They've added a photo of Slate and Lacy above the title and credits. The back cover has a very funny synopsis (which also eludes one of the movie's more salient plot points, something that will likely prompt some Walmart customers to return the movie in a fit of rage). The entire package comes in a slightly glossy slipcover with identical artwork, and a sheet with the digital copy code can be found inside the eco-friendly Blu-ray case.
The Video and Audio
Visually speaking, Obvious Child is unusually dark for a comedy. I appreciate it -- too many Hollywood comedies these days look like sitcoms -- but it's the kind of thing that might prove challenging for a good DVD or Blu-ray transfer. Thankfully, this 2.39:1 1080p AVC presentation is pretty spot-on, without any noticeable banding or artifacting in even the heaviest shadows (well, okay, there is some during the non-film part of the opening credits, but that's it). There doesn't even seem to be any crush -- the times when detail disappears into the darkness look pretty natural, not digital. Detail is also excellent, and colors appear to be accurate, even when they get kind of murky (the red lights inside the nightclub where Donna performs) or drab (a natural outdoor desaturation that suggests New York's freezing temperatures). Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that authentically captures the dingy echo of comedy clubs, the ambient noise of a quiet apartment, and the clinical sterility of a doctor's office. Dialogue and score sound great. No complaints on either front. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, English subtitles, and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Supplements kick off with an audio commentary by writer / director Gillian Robespierre, producer / co-writer Elisabeth Holm, and actor / producer Jenny Slate. As a frequent commentary listener, there's a moment of tension near the beginning as the trio just sit silently, listening to one of Donna's stand-up jokes, but after about five minutes they warm up, falling into a comfortable and friendly rhythm. Topics include things they've seen in other movies that they wanted to avoid (including Spice World), places they shot, their thoughts on the characters and characterizations, finding the film's tone, and the number of great one-liners that had to be sacrificed during the editing process. Those who prefer their tracks more technical than anecdotal might be left wanting, and there are still some gaps in the conversation from time to time, but this is a very funny track, and in my opinion, a must-listen.
Video extras begin with "The Making of Obvious Child" (24:39, HD), or "How to Raise an Obvious Child", according to the featurette itself, a pretty straightforward account of the film from idea through to the film's premiere at Sundance. Those who wanted more history out of the commentary than the casual conversation offers will probably be pleased by this very straightforward account of the film's development process, built around interviews with all of the principal players discussing their involvement and ideas about the film. Although the featurette isn't necessarily remarkable in and of itself, it is very nice to see non-EPK interviews and a minimal reliance on clips from the finished film, and it gets better as it goes along. Also (not that the featurette leaves the viewer for long enough for anyone to miss the additional comments, but), be sure to watch the credits.
This is followed by two hefty chunks of existing scenes. The first is a reel of extended scenes (23:52, HD). Much of the material comes from the film's stand-up comedy sessions, restoring a bunch of additional material to jokes still in the movie. Other inclusions include a lengthier post-break-up phone call montage, a bit more of Donna and Max together on their first night, and the dinner scene with Donna, Nellie, and Joey (Gabe Liedman). The second, and the last feature on the disc, is of course the original 2009 Obvious Child Short Film (20:53, HD). This provides an interesting look at how the ideas transformed and changed during the journey from short to feature film (primarily the structure of the story, which is sort of flipped around). It's also, unsurprisingly, very funny, with some great lines that are unique to this version of the story ("This has gone through a change of seasons?").
Trailers for Laggies, Life After Beth, The Spectacular Now, The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu, and are also accessible under the extras menu via "Trailers." No original theatrical trailer for Obvious Child is included.
Obvious Child is a wonderful blend of crude humor and winning romance, both of which are supported and deepened by the honesty and sincerity of Robespierre and her collaborators in writing these characters and their choices. The film is also bolstered by an excellent Blu-ray release which features excellent A/V and a well-rounded selection of supplements that touches all the bases. Highly recommended.
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