When last year’s Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress In A Comedy Or Musical were announced – including Emily Blunt, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams, Helen Mirren and a shock entry for the new Annie star Quvenzhane Wallis – a small but vocal cry could be heard across social media: “What about Jenny Slate?”
Jenny Slate will not be a familiar name to many people. Her appearances in films have been limited to a small appearance in the action comedy This Is War and a barely seen romantic comedy called The Longest Week with Jason Bateman and Olivia Wilde. She is, in fact, probably better known for her television work with regular spots on House Of Lies and Parks And Recreation.
However, Jenny Slate landed on a lot of people’s radars in a big way when she starred in last year’s cult indie sensation Obvious Child, which has just landed on Netflix in the UK this month. She plays an unapologetically honest young stand-up comedian for whom life quickly deals a bad hand. She is broke, loses her job, gets dumped, and finds herself pregnant with a child conceived in a one-night stand. Her character, Donna, soon finds herself in a position where she has to face the realities of growing up with all the confusion and uncertainty it entails.
Made by a team of women – Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm – Obvious Child is a comedy whose humour draws from situations many young women will be able to relate to. It is refreshing to see a movie this frank about what it’s like to be a twenty-something female in the modern world. In that way, Obvious Child is rather subversive film-making, but the most remarkable thing about the movie is how it doesn’t feel subversive at all. It is a natural little movie that centres around compelling, endearing characters and not a lot of plot.
Obvious Child, whose title derives from the Paul Simon song of the same name, courted some controversy for its naturalism and honesty though. Almost from the moment it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, it came under the spotlight of the right-wing media because one of the ways Donna deals with the tough choices adult life presents her – and one of the more prominent storylines in the movie – is by planning to abort the child she conceived. Furthermore, it deals with it in a way that’s unusually hilarious (one of the funniest lines: “Remember from before when we did sex to each other? I’m having your abortion. Want to share a desert?”).
Some critics branded Obvious Child as the “abortion comedy” and it inevitably ignited debate about abortion and whether it should be used as a source for comedy. However, like everything else in the movie, Obvious Child succeeds because it’s not a politicised movie about the moral or ethical conundrums of abortion. It is simply an insight into the difficult choices life presents twenty-something women which, much like Donna who deals with many of the challenges with comedy when she goes on stage, recognises that painful realisations and awkward humour are not mutually exclusive. Jenny Slate nails the delicate balance between comedy and poignancy perfectly and her exclusion from awards nominations, including the aforementioned Golden Globes, was a shameful oversight.