Obvious Child

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on July 04, 2014

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Dear Eric Milano
Commentary Mixer

Dear Eric,

It's rare to find a comedy that actually has something to say. Sure, the odd political satire or dark comedy sometimes places a funhouse mirror to the world. But they're usually about those people--that is, targets big and broad enough for us lowly commoners to feel empowered by laughing at. Obvious Child takes a much more dangerous route, mining comedy from an average woman's decision to have an abortion. Hilarious, right? Well, yes and no. And for the best reasons.

Undoubtedly, some people will cheer Oblivious Child for being defiantly feminist. Others will write the film off without ever seeing it based solely on the premise. Others still might just assume it's going to ape the Juno formula. Well, I'm happy to report to all these groups that the film doesn't fit into any one of those boxes.

But you're probably wondering why I'm talking to you about all of this. You're listed as a member of the sound department (as opposed to a writer), so the commentary you were mixing was undoubtedly a voiceover track between writer/director Gillian Robespierre and (sure-to-be) breakout star Jenny Slate for the eventual DVD release. However, since this little indie film is getting a well-deserved theatrical life, I'll have to wait to hear what they have to say. In the meantime, I'll assume that the (rather terrible) title comes from the Paul Simon song on the soundtrack, and that it's a holdover from the short film Robespierre made on the same subject back in 2006. What I am curious to hear, however, is a scene-by-scene breakdown of how they decided when to push the comedy and when to get serious. Because the mix they found is rather remarkable.

I can imagine that the commentary track starts off with some self-deprecating introductions and personal insights about being a comedienne in New York. After all, Slate's portrayal of Donna - a struggling comic who mines her personal life for brutally honest material - feels a bit too authentic to be completely made-up.

The scene in which she's dumped by her distracted boyfriend (who keeps neurotically checking his phone) is dialed in just right, to the point that half my audience sank into their seats from the discomfort of self-recognition (myself included). And as Donna slowly spins herself into a spiral of depression, only to be temporarily rescued by a one-night stand, I found myself increasingly invested in her decisions. The small ones, and the big ones. When she must choose what to do after a positive pregnancy test, the tension that develops is masterfully underplayed. Added layers of meaning about what's worth holding onto in life bubble just under the surface -- the way good commentary should.

I laughed almost as hard as I cringed in this movie, yet never felt like the film was trying to force a Judd Apatow-level reaction. The direction, in fact, is almost staid in its simplicity, but reflects an unflinching confidence in the material. Not to mention, of course, trust in Slate herself, who carries the film in the worthiest way. She's at once hilarious and relatable, bold and modest, self-assured and fragile. In other words, the perfect mix.

No further comment,


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