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Solid Slate makes Obvious Child a first-rate rom-com

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A lot of the buzz surrounding Obvious Child concerns the fact that abortion is one of the indie rom-com's major plot points.

It's not a topic that readily lends itself to either rom or com, to be sure. And the film, directed by first-timer Gillian Robespierre, must be given credit for its approach, which neither demonizes abortion, nor presents it as an Important Topic.

It's matter-of-fact without being cavalier. Women get abortions, and though it's not a decision to be taken lightly, it's also not one that always causes hand-wringing angst and lifelong remorse.

What's more impressive about Obvious Child is that it's a lovely film about characters who feel real -- flawed and funny and infuriating and sweet.

No, there aren't many movies that actually depict a woman going through with an abortion, but lately, a romantic comedy that's both romantic and a comedy seems even more rare.

Aspiring standup comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) knows she's not ready to be a mother. She's in her late 20s, works in a bookstore and, as her mother points out, doesn't even know how to do her taxes. So when she finds herself pregnant after a fling with a totally unsuitable guy (preppy, slip-on shoes, gentile), she knows what she has to do, especially since she's just lost her job and been dumped by her boyfriend (which led to the hook-up in the first place).

One complication? Max, the adorable, inappropriate guy (Jake Lacey of The Office), doesn't seem to know he's supposed to be a one-night stand.

The film's appeal hinges on Slate -- probably best known for her role as the obnoxious Mona Saperstein on Parks and Recreation -- and she owns the screen, practically pulsing with energy. Like Sarah Silverman crossed with pre-nose-job Jennifer Grey, she is a foul-mouthed cherub, her acerbic wit countering her vulnerable side.

Donna's comedy act is decidedly adult (audiences may be more offended by her raunchy, scabrous standup than the film's pro-choice stance), but she'd be the first to admit she's immature -- a bit slovenly, a bit of a basket case. But for once, we're not rooting for the hunky guy to see the beauty behind the glasses; we want the woman to see the potential in the nine-to-fiver with the Oxford shirt and sensible shoes.

Obvious Child has all the familiar tropes -- the meet-cute (or meet-drunk) mismatched couple, the coincidental run-in, the sassy best friend -- but it makes them fresh, not merely a Brooklyn hipster version of a rom-com (it helps that Donna's feminist BFF is played by the fabulous, fearless Gaby Hoffmann in another of her almost-unhinged roles).

When Max and Donna exchange banter, it's the genuine, awkward, trying-to-impress-you conversation of a first date, not the stylized too-cool-for-schoolkids repartee of Juno.

In a stellar bit of casting, Donna's divorced parents are played by Richard Kind and Polly Draper (where has she been since thirtysomething?), and you genuinely believe Slate, with her wide, mobile mouth and husky voice, could be their offspring; you also believe it because they aren't Hollywood caricatures and their interactions ring with authenticity.

Obvious Child is not waving any particular political banner -- Donna is not striking a blow for all of womankind; she's having a medical procedure -- but there's a memorable scene where she sits, post-op, in a recovery room full of other women, some looking remorseful, others shyly smiling. It's a wordless acknowledgment of the fact that terminating a pregnancy is not, as some movies would have us believe, the act of sluts or sinners, but women of every stripe. They won't be unchanged by the experience, but they also probably won't be defined by it. And they might still get the guy.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2014 D3


Updated on Friday, September 5, 2014 at 9:12 AM CDT: Corrects typo, corrects spelling of Gaby Hoffmann's name

9:54 AM: Replaces photo

10:05 AM: Adds video

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