Obvious Child

Year: 2014
Production Co: Rooks Nest Entertainment
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Writer: Gillian Robespierre/Karen Maine/Elisabeth Holm/
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, David Cross, Richard Kind

There's a particular kind of movie that comes around early in a performer's career – very often a comedy, and very often starring a rising stage comic – that serves as much as a vehicle to introduce audiences and fans to a distinct talent and the shtick they or their management/publicity machinery want the public to think of them as just as much as it is a story.

For Chris Farley's lovable, clueless, slightly Laurel and Hardy bumbling it was Tommy Boy. For Amy Schumer's sweary, hard-drinking millennial... er, trainwreck... persona, it was Trainwreck.

Not many people will have heard of Jenny Slate apart from a few small roles (the only ones I knew her from was as Missy in profane coming of age animated Netflix comedy Big Mouth and the scientist in Venom ), but this is the What I Am vehicle that formally establishes her comedy m.o.

Donna is a lost twentysomething struggling with that very 21st century ennui of feeling like she should have her shit together with careers and relationships but who seems stuck in an endless childhood where she can't take care of herself, standing in constant judgement of more successful peers and middle aged parents.

She's a stand-up comic, the fodder for her act everything from the listlessness in her life to the weird betrayals of her own body. After her set, her boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her in the club bathroom, admitting he's been seeing her best friend.

Donna'a more depressed and anchorless than usual, tailspinning into depression, drinking too much, rambling almost incoherently on stage and threatening to destroy even her own nascent comedy career. When she meets the preppy Max (Jake Lacy, Pete from The Office), a guy who appears nothing like her usual type, there's an instant and flirtatious connection and they fall into bed.

Horrified, Donna sneaks out of his place, and the rest of the movie is more or less about her trying to avoid him out of embarrassment but running into him by chance. Worse still, she discovers that their fumbling one night stand has ended up with her pregnant, sparking a whole new cycle of angst, knowing an abortion is the obvious choice because of the shambles her life is in but feeling the inevitable emotional fallout.

There are no real surprises in the story, it's kind of soft and kind of sweet and it's about people finding each other despite their very flaky flaws. The performances are earnest and Slate is a watchable enough presence, it's just that I spent most of it feeling like I'd already seen it elsewhere – often better.

But what a unique pleasure to see Gaby Hoffman on screen again, all grown up. She plays Donna's warm, loving, spiky, acerbic and whip-smart best friend Nellie, and it's the first time I've seen her in anything since she played Tommy Lee Jones' young teenage daughter in Volcano back in the 90s.

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