On Obvious Child

Given that I’m married to a comedian, films about the art of stand up are more likely to cross my path than some other topics. But even movie-lovers completely unconnected to any of those masochistic souls that dream of earning a living by making others laugh will surely be fond of Jenny Slate’s endearing portrayal of amateur stand up Donna Stern in Obvious Child.

Hyped as “the abortion romantic-comedy,” I was initially surprised by how little I felt the movie actually dealt with abortion (my husband Mike, however, said the exact opposite). Protagonist Donna Stern is a struggling stand up comedian based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She works at a bookstore by day and spends most nights performing at a local bar. The film opens when Donna is brutally dumped in the grungy bathroom of said local bar by a guy who turns out to have been sleeping with her friend. Donna’s ego is badly damaged so she takes to drinking excessively as a means of coping.

One drunken night lays the plot-line for the remainder of the film. Donna meets Max, a nice, non-hipster guy who is clearly out of place at her regular Williamsburg haunt. The night ends in a one-night stand that also, incidentally enough, leaves Donna pregnant, and she decides unequivocally to have an abortion. It was refreshing to watch a film where the conflict was not whether to have an abortion, but rather, whether and how to break the news about it to Max (and I think this is why it didn’t feel as abortion-heavy as I expected – I imagined the central dilemma to revolve around her equivocating on the abortion thing).

Although abortion completely factors into the film, I found that this movie was more about the awkward, bumbling romance between two people from entirely different crowds. As Donna says on stage, she is the spitting image of Anne Frank. In private to her gay best friend, she describes Max as a Christmas tree because he is so obviously a good Christian boy. Her jokes at Max’s expense place him as a well-bred frat boy, a sharp contrast to her decidedly unladylike choice of language and penchant for fart jokes. Nevertheless viewers understand that Donna is attracted to Max in spite of their obvious surface-level differences.

Even more complicating is the fact that Donna plans to abort Max’s baby. She tries to avoid engaging in anything more than a one-night stand with Max because of this fact, only to have her plans foiled by circumstance and plain, old-fashioned attraction. This in itself is a great moral dilemma and a good conversation starter (for people with like-political-minds of course). Should she tell Max about the pregnancy? What about the abortion? How should she tell him? How much say should he have in the matter of getting an abortion? This highly entertaining film tricks you into thinking about some of these heavy issues while simultaneously making you both laugh and cringe at Donna’s social skills or complete lack thereof.

Jenny Slate is captivating in her portrayal of Donna. I find that sometimes the female comedian character is way overdrawn to the point of irritation. Thankfully Slate stops short of grating on your nerves. She portrays Donna as perky, complex, and quirky, but her performance is never dull, hackneyed, or annoying. Donna is flawed and she knows it, she’s a bit aimless and is okay with it, she’s hilarious even if in an unconventional way, and her stand up doesn’t fall on the standard tropes to which female comedy can frequently be prone. Sometimes you want to hold her back from embarking on a mistake, sometimes you want to give her a pep talk about doing the right thing, but mostly you just want to see how it all works out because you know she will land on her feet. Luckily, she has great friends and family, portrayed by Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, and Polly Draper, to help her with the first two.

Jake Lacy plays Max, the all-American, Christian boy. While it’s obvious from the start that he would not typically fit into Donna’s world, audiences can’t help rooting for him nonetheless. He tries to understand Donna but never attempts to change himself in an effort to align with a superficial characterization of Donna’s supposed “type.” Max proves to be a genuinely sweet character and I find Lacy an appealing fit for that role.

Certainly prepare yourself for some gross humor, R-rated language, and lots of skinny jeans before watching this one. It’s not exactly friendly for all types of families, but I watched this one with my parents and sister with little of the discomfort that often accompanies family viewings of movies intended for the same target audience. All in all, Obvious Child will leave you with the type of feel-good vibes people are in search of whenever they watch romantic comedies.

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On About Time

I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy but I was starting to think they were a thing of the past. Those kind of love stories where a bumbling Hugh Grant character sweeps a devastatingly gorgeous woman off her feet and to a happy ending aren’t just a guilty pleasure, they are simply a requirement for many ladies from time to time. Although Rachel McAdams missed the boat with her first time travel romance, her most recent effort included the lovable Bill Nighy and was directed by Grant’s buddy Richard Curtis, so I had to give it a try. The result was wildly delightful.

About Time may be marketing itself as a film about time travel, however the lead character’s mystical ability to skip back in time plays a refreshingly small role in the plot of this satisfying romantic comedy. As the title suggests, the film centers on time but the focus is upon how even the most ordinary among us should use and cherish our precious time, rather than the protagonist’s unlikely gift for manipulating it.

When Tim turns 21 years old, his father reveals the unbelievable fact that all men in the family are blessed with the remarkable ability to time travel. Though the young Tim immediately tests out his father’s revelation by going back in time to rectify a potentially romantic moment gone awry, his father strictly recommends that time travel only be used in circumstances of the utmost importance and after very careful consideration. Shortly thereafter, Tim moves to London to pursue a career in law and to find love. Time travel becomes more of a useful tool in the big city, but he quickly learns its limitations.

Tim uses his time traveling skills to assist his insufferable playwright roommate Harry, by rectifying a horrible episode of on-stage amnesia during opening night of Harry’s most promising work. The night of the play’s debut, however, happens to be the very same evening when Tim meets the lovely Mary. By going back in time to set things right for Harry, Tim rewrites the history of his own night, erasing his introduction to Mary, her phone number from his phone, and all her memories of him.

Luckily Tim is able to track Mary down and replay their next meeting until he gets it perfectly right. Certain scenes are repeated for humor as Tim attempts to steer events from the past to better outcomes, but refreshingly enough, the time travel trope never becomes a crutch to the plot. As Tim and Mary’s relationship evolves, the whole time travel element actually takes a backseat to the stories of love and family which comprise the bulk of the film. There were few if any great shocks in the movie, though I was constantly guessing incorrectly what would happen next. About Time was certainly more subtle than any edge-of-your-seat action movie, but Curtis deftly drew on the opportunities for unpredictability offered by a time traveling protagonist.

Anachronistic plotlines and time travel can get quite messy on screen, leaving viewers with unanswered questions and a degree of confusion that distracts from the meat of a story. A few of the restrictions that defined Tim’s time travel were unveiled in seemingly irreversible events that he was somehow able to make right again. I was mildly confused by these scenes (which I don’t want to describe in great detail for fear of revealing too much), though in the grand scheme of things, this flaw failed to detract from my overall viewing experience. Soon enough, something just-so sentimental brought a tear to my eye or Nighy made me laugh, and I forgot about the time travel confusion from a few moments prior.

Domhnall Gleeson plays a winning and appealing Tim, while Rachel McAdams is lovely as ever in her portrayal of Mary. You can’t lose with Bill Nighy, who brings the perfect blend of humor and heart to the role of Tim’s father (and I can’t say I expected anything less). The role of Tim’s sister Kit Kat, filled by Lydia Wilson, is hard to master, a brilliantly strange and fun-loving person who is also absolutely adored by her brother. But Wilson strikes a delicate balance between wacky and endearing. In the hands of director Richard Curtis, this talented crew of actors pulled off a perfectly balanced story that could have easily become over-the-top and outlandish. Instead, About Time satisfied my craving for a decent rom-com like no trip to the movies has in years.

On Away We Go

I know that this movie came out over three years ago – in fact, I saw it in theaters three times the summer it was released. But I have a very dear attachment to this film and I didn’t have a blog way back then. So I figured that it was about time I give this movie a little time in the spotlight.

One of the reviews I read for Away We Go (sorry, I can’t remember the source) described it as the kind of movie that sneaks up on you and catches you by surprise. Though I know all viewers and critics didn’t share in this feeling, I personally could not agree more. Away We Go came out at a time when there were plenty of other movies I was highly anticipating going to see – this was not necessarily one among them. I went in with little background beyond the fact that John Krasinski (better known as Jim from The Office) was in this film and that Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida were the writers behind the screenplay. I left the theatre feeling like this was just the movie I’d been waiting for without even realizing it.

Backed by the beautiful sounds of Alexi Murdoch, Away We Go documents a youngish couple who finds themselves pregnant. Burt Farlander, portrayed by Krasinski, and Verona DeTessant, played by Maya Rudolph, met in college and, post-grad, settled down in the same town as Burt’s parents. But when the Farlanders decide to move to Belgium just months before their grandbaby is due, Burt and Verona realize that all ties to the place they call home are gone. The two take off to search for the perfect place to settle down and start their family of three, visiting family and friends along the way.

Part of this film’s charm is the very relationship between Burt and Verona around which it is centered. Maybe it’s because I can relate to the dynamic between a goofy but lovable boyfriend paired with a more straight-laced girl. Or maybe it’s just because they’re a well-written on-screen couple. It could be that Krasinski and Rudolph just have great chemistry. More accurately it is probably a combination of all three. Their relationship achieves the perfect balance of fun, humor, sincerity, kindness, companionship, and love. Their characters are relatable but humorous, so it isn’t too long before they’ve won you over.

As Burt and Verona seek a potential home, they travel to locales far and wide and encounter a wide array of characters, portrayed by Jim Gaffigan, Allison Janney, and Maggie Gyllenhaal among others. Most of their connections to these new towns are tenuous at best, and nothing feels quite right. But don’t mistake this for a cheesy drama – though the couple learns about themselves through the course of their trip, the movie doesn’t play like a made-for-TV movie. Rather it is an alternative take on the coming of age story where our main focus is not on a single character but instead on a loving and stable couple.

Though I won’t give away the conclusion to the story, I do have to say that the ending of Away We Go is absolutely beautiful. There is something undeniably compelling about the soundtrack paired with the images on screen and the very feelings that the final 5 minutes of the film evoke. After having seen all sides of Burt and Verona, after having experienced the range of emotions that their trip elicits, I think it is only natural to feel as content and calmly satisfied as the characters on screen when the movie comes to an end.