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'Obvious Child' review: Indie romantic comedy with sharp eye for detail

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child at New Directors

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child at New Directors New Films 2014. Credit: A24

"I'm pregnant and I'm having an abortion," a weepy Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), confesses to her mother (Polly Draper). "Thank God," Mom says, relieved. "I thought you were going to say you're moving to L.A." If "Obvious Child," the so-called "abortion comedy" directed by Gillian Robespierre ticks people off, it won't be because it isn't funny, or human, but because it treats a political, provocative procedure as something that doesn't always result in divine plagues of floods, famine, pestilence and toads.

Directed with a sharp eye for hipster detail, the film is really a romantic comedy and like all romantic comedies requires a distracting conflict to provide lumps to the budding love affair in question. In "Obvious Child," it happens to be abortion: Donna, who does standup in Williamsburg when she's not working at a used bookstore in Manhattan, finds out in the same week that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and that her bookstore is closing, and channels both into a disastrously drunken set at her local comedy club.

There, she meets Max (Jake Lacy), a white-bread Vermonter who's on a boho tour of Brooklyn. They have an inebriated one-night stand; several weeks later, she discovers she's pregnant. Whether to tell Max -- and how and why and where -- becomes the movie's preoccupation, less so Donna's ambiguity about a procedure she agrees to have, with no lack of irony, on Valentine's Day.

Slate is both charming and funny, even if some of the standup material is more crass than it is clever, and the intentionally bad jokes go on too long. In its quieter, more contemplative moments "Obvious Child" is quite affecting, capturing a moment in young woman's life when she has to ponder her choices -- the ones she's made, and the ones she will. There's a sense of authenticity about her, her city, her generation -- and even her dilemma -- that's rare. And mature. And knowing, about the realities of women's lives, without a lot of candy coating.

PLOT Comedian loses her job, is dumped by her boyfriend and winds up pregnant, just in time for Valentine's Day.

RATING R (some thematic elements, violence and language)

CAST Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann


BOTTOM LINE Virtue and vulgarity fight to a draw via a film that should put the vivacious Jenny Slate and director Gillian Robespierre on everyone's indie radar.

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