OBVIOUS CHILD: Not at all obvious why this is so well reviewed


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“OVBVIOUS CHILD” DOES offer a rare moment in mainstream (ish) US cinema: its protagonist (Jenny Slate as Donna), drunk one night, gets knocked up, pregnant and decides on an abortion. The ta-da moment is that she actually goes through with it. So much so that it’s being lauded as the “abortion rom com” in the US. Hollywood has given us an increasingly long list of drunk, banged up, pregnant, heart-broken protagonists. This seems to reflect their take on the zeitgeist of modern romance. But almost always love, God, the need to cater to the (largely fundamentalist) mainstream audience or simply the conventions of rom-com where the intrusion of reality is verboten, demands a change of mind.

So it’s a sort of first.

This is the only possible reason why you should consider parting with your money to see this  irritating, cringe-inducing, humourless, often puerile exercise in cinematic self-indulgence.

Ms. Slate is a stand-up comedian and part-timer on “Saturday Night Live”, who has broken out of the club circuit to become the hugely feted star of this well received movie.

The protagonist in this story (Donna) is, you guessed it, a stand-up comedian. Well, she does ‘do’ stand-up and does offer a monologue: a riff on her life and her (embarrassed) boyfriend (Gabe Liedman). But, though we see shots of people laughing, of humour, there is none.

The movie lodges itself entirely in the brain and obsessive perspective of Donna. The people with whom she interfaces – her ex and present lovers (Liedman and Jake Lacy), her BFF (Gaby Hoffman), her parents (Richard Kind and Polly Draper) and her manager (Paul Briganti) – aren’t so much real people as foils to her faux angst. She cringes, cries, sleeps, gets drunk, cuddles up with mummy, has some version of chaste sex (with her bra on), eats etc. all to the vouyeristic delight of director Gillian Robespierre’s camera. The whole thing feels like a vanity project and seems to be screaming at us: “look at me now, how cute I really am, and how funny I can be, even when my mascara’s running”

The directing offers no relief. First-timer Robespierre may have a bright future ahead of her (and that there’s actually another female director in Hollywood is worthy of applause) but this feature is clunky with choppy editing and a generally muddy tone.

It’s all very claustrophobic.

Donna’s not a particularly interesting, funny, intelligent or pleasant person; and her story is a minor-key tale of love lost and love found without bigger aspirations. So it’s difficult to understand why Jenny should feel that the paying audience should give a damn.

Importantly, the esthetic wall between the character (Donna) and the actor (Jenny), the performance and the performer seems so porous that the result is a sort of ontological mess. The “Donna” who isn’t particularly interesting and the “Jenny” who expects (we presume) the audience to give a damn feel like one and the same.

Oh, Sarah Silverman where are you?

 

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