Staff Pick: “Obvious Child” tackles an unlikely rom-com topic

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From the June 26, 2014 edition

If you’ve heard anything about the indie comedy “Obvious Child,” you’ve probably heard it described as “the abortion comedy.” That’s a pretty gross oversimplification of a pretty great little movie.

That said, most romantic comedies don’t dabble in hot-button topics — let alone with such grace — so you should be warned that, yes, abortion is a thing in “Obvious Child.”

Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a 20-something NYC stand-up comic whose act bears a frank vulgarity and willingness to share her personal life with a room full of strangers. “I used to hide what my vagina did to my underpants,” begins one bit.

When Donna’s boyfriend reveals that he’s been seeing someone else, Donna goes into a wine-fueled cycle of self-loathing that only gets worse when she learns she’s about to lose her day job at Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books.

Donna takes a little drunken solace in Max (Jake Lacy), an earnestly sweet guy who seems more at home at a clam bake than the dive-y Brooklyn club where he meets (and is instantly smitten by) Donna. After a booze-fueled first evening, they hook up.

Soon after, when Donna discovers she might be pregnant, she replays the hazy events of the evening. “I recall seeing a condom,” she recalls to her friend (Gaby Hoffmann). “I just don’t know what it did.”

Writer-director Gillian Robespierre has created a warm and grown-up debut. It’s deeply funny, refreshingly frank, and somehow manages to make the predictabilities of a romantic comedy feel fresh. She’s also got a knack for not making all of her characters share the exact same dry wit (one of the main pitfalls of another unexpected pregnancy comedy, “Juno”).

An awful lot of credit goes to Slate. She manages to convey the fact that Donna is clearly not ready for motherhood in a way that’s honest. That she makes the audience empathize more than judge is testament to Slate’s skill. She’s also funny as hell.

Obvious disclaimer: If you find the very concept of an “abortion comedy” too offensive (though “Obvious Child” is, as I said, more than that), you need not apply. Personally, I’ll call “Obvious Child” the obvious frontrunner for indie comedy of the year.

Photo courtesy of A24 Films