I was going to start by saying that OBVIOUS CHILD is what all independent films should strive to be, but I caught myself and realized that, in reality, it is what all films should strive to be. Genuine, believable, surprising, accessible and moving in some way. Not everything has to be TERMS OF ENDEARMENT but really don’t we want our films to move us regardless of genre? Don’t we want to identify with the serial killer? The mother? The soldier? The animated sloth? OBVIOUS CHILD is all that and more and I was deeply impressed. It is full without being excessive, revealing without being mawkish, and hilariously funny without trying to be a comedy. It is even more remarkable that this is the first feature length film from Gillian Robespierre who wrote and directed. And, while I have not fact checked this, she’s like 16 1/2 years old…or something disgustingly young and talented like that.
Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a salesperson at a typical New York City renegade independent bookstore and a stand-up comedienne at night. She’s funny. She’s rough around the edges and that’s good because she is a real person – you like her a lot but she’s got some good New York grit to her. Allow me to say here, as a born and raised New Yorker that this is a very New York film, and the cluster of companions and friends surrounding Donna are people I grew up with and people I know. We enter Donna’s life just before all hell breaks lose. While each of us has likely suffered one of the unfortunate events which rain down upon our endearing Donna, it is the clusterfuck nature of this moment in her life which gives depth to the story, while still remaining believable. While I hesitate to draw attention to physical beauty, I want to state that Jenny Slate is the perfect woman; she’s pretty but not too beautiful, she is confident, sexy and funky but also fragile and spazzy, she screws up and makes you laugh ’till you cry at her pain. Those seemingly opposing forces are what make Donna such a powerful lead. Her circle of friends are wonderfully varied and fit together like a beautiful-multi-borough-hipster-collage . I wondered if in fact the actors are friends in real life. The ease of their conversation and the perfect timing of their dialogue and jabs is how each of us is with our own friends – blunt, caring, uninhibited – and while that comes naturally in life it is hard to create on paper. Donna’s relationship with her BFF Nellie, played by Gaby Hoffman, is a crystal ball revealing the rhythms and love inherent in so many women’s intimate friendships and it is wonderful to watch.
OBVIOUS CHILD has a fairly limited range of locales – a cab ride from one setting to the next and back again. The camera work is direct and solid. The editing is efficient and the film never drags. The script is both familiar and fluid but has phrases which will inevitably becomes part of my personal vernacular. I would share some but I really don’t want to spoil the fun. This film is what talent looks like; talented direction, talented writing, talented acting, casting, editing, all of it. I questioned whether this story would even work with big “name” actors. Would we believe it? Could we feel for the characters in the same way? I don’t know, but it really doesn’t matter because it is a damn fine independent film, and a jewel of a film.
Director – Gillian Robespierre
Starring – Jenny Slate, Gaby Hoffman, David Cross, Jake Lacey, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind & Polly Draper
83 Minutes, not yet rated (I’m guessing R for naughty words)
Movie Review Obvious Child