In 2009, Jenny Slate uttered the “fuck” heard ’round the world. In Slate’s debut sketch as a Saturday Night Live cast member, she dropped an FCC-forbidden f-bomb while playing a biker chick opposite Kristen Wiig (who, incredibly, didn’t miss a beat). No one other than SNL insiders can say whether that whoops moment contributed to Slate being shown the door after only one season.
But no harm done: She’d already elevated herself from footnote to notable with a single swear.
Now, Slate is starring in her first above-the-title feature role in Obvious Child, which remains true to her voice even though she’s given no writing credit. Director and scriptwriter Gillian Robespierre is also making her feature debut, having helped write and helm the short on which the film is based. Together, they’ve created a romantic comedy that’s Juno without the strained clever dialogue, or In a World… plus abortion. And, of course, bits of every other romantic comedy ever made, with the addition of nicknames like “Pee Farter.”
Slate plays Donna, a struggling—wait for it—stand-up comic. Because Donna overshares onstage, her boyfriend dumps her in a dive bar’s unisex bathroom after a set, and she spends an unspecified number of days wallowing in a refreshingly accurate woe-is-me montage. (“Light stalking” with on-the-spot self-bargaining like “if that lady crosses the street, I’ll leave,” included.) Donna warns her roommate that she better not snuggle-comfort her for much longer, because she’s about to turn her bed into a “fart pod.”
Perhaps you’re picking up on the film’s sense of humor. But it’s not just bathroom gags. (And when a woman explicitly describes what her dirty underwear looks like, it certainly qualifies as a gag.) When Donna meets a nice guy, Max (Jake Lacy), at the bar, she’s concerned that he’s not Jewish. (“He, like, knows Santa.”) And when their one-night stand results in pregnancy, she’s concerned that a woman in her late 20s who still says things like “Remember when we did sex to each other?” might not be ready for a child.
Other characters get to be funny, too, smoothing Obvious Child into a comedy that doesn’t bombard you with one-liners but allows jokes to flow naturally during normal conversation. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, and one you won’t notice if done well—particularly when the subject of abortion is a significant part of the mix. The film is all for choice, although, really, Donna doesn’t even consider her choices. She does not want the baby. And she tells people in the most cringe-inducing way.
Obvious Child may not rocket Slate into the stratum occupied by the likes of Will Ferrell or Wiig. Yet she proves that she can not only carry a film, but also, like Donna, warm up an audience that might’ve initially considered her style off-putting. Slate actually seems similar to Donna’s, um, butthole, which apparently argues while gaseous whenever she’s on a date: “I gotta be me.”