There’s a certain bravery about “Obvious Child,” and I’m not just talking about the way this risk-taking comedy defiantly tackles an issue — abortion — around which bigger movies, like “Knocked Up” or “Juno,” quietly danced.
The other bravery that writer-director Gillian Robespierre and especially her star, comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alumna Jenny Slate, exhibit in this low-budget comedy (which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival) is in how they show the raw emotions and romantic honesty of the true-to-life woman in the movie’s center.
Slate portrays Donna Stern, a New York stand-up comic whose brutally honest stream-of-consciousness monologues make you think of Louis C.K. — if Louie were a young Jewish woman who talks about her vagina. (Get used to the v-word; you’ll be hearing it a lot in this movie.)
In the days before Christmas, Donna gets a double dose of bad news: Her boyfriend, Ryan (Paul Briganti), dumps her to live with one of her friends, and the bookstore where she works is going out of business. Lonely and fearing unemployment, she gets drunk and has a one-night stand with a guy she just met, Max (Jake Lacy).
A few weeks later, in January, the bad news compounds when Donna discovers that she’s pregnant. Firmly convinced she’s in no place in her life to be a good mother, she chooses to undergo an abortion. This decision is met with understanding by her best friend, Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann), and compassion from her mother (Polly Draper).
Donna learns, though, that she must wait a couple of weeks, for medical reasons, and she sets an appointment for the procedure on Feb. 14 — yes, Valentine’s Day.
In the interim, she attempts to reconnect with Max and tell him about her decision. This proves difficult for two reasons: It’s a hard topic to bring up in casual conversation, and it turns out that Max is a really, really nice guy — the sort of guy with whom, under other circumstances, Donna might try to build a long-term relationship.
Robespierre (who shares story credit with her writing friend Karen Maine, and adapted this from her 2009 short film, which also stars Slate) treats Donna’s decision to have an abortion as evenhandedly as is possible. The movie neither shames Donna nor sugarcoats the decision. Instead, it is presented as a rational choice, though a deeply personal one — one that even a stand-up comedian treats (mostly) seriously. (There’s one moment of gallows humor that could be considered offensive, but only if you don’t see it as a shared stress break between Donna and Nellie.)
What’s also important in “Obvious Child,” and why this slice-of-life comedy is so refreshingly honest, is that the abortion decision isn’t all that’s on the movie’s mind. Robespierre and Slate, in a performance that’s both fierce and vulnerable, create a lovable, maddening, complicated character who’s more than her job, more than her love life and more than her one decision.
A stand-up comic has a one-night stand, and then contemplates getting an abortion, in this smart, emotional and courageous comedy-drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for language and sexual content.
Running time • 84 minutes.