Obvious Child is my favorite movie so far this year. That’s right, I said it. With a script as mature, intelligent and funny as its lead actress, Jenny Slate, how could it not be? Obvious Child is a remarkably frank, well-written, and well-acted romantic comedy that shows there are many different types of Hollywood “happy endings.” Not all of them involve a cookie cutter walk into the sunset while pushing a baby carriage. This film is made by real women, about real women, for real women (and men too… let’s not leave you guys out) and there is nothing better than that.
Though many, including the studio, have been marketing Obvious Child as an “abortion comedy”, this term doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it is about abortion, and yes there are hilarious jokes (in fact, there are some jokes ABOUT abortion), but that title minimizes the genius of this film and quite frankly, may turn some audience members away from going to see it. Abortion is just a small part of this film’s true theme: a young woman, faced with a difficult problem, who is trying to grow up and find out who she really is.
The story revolves around Donna (Jenny Slate), a twenty-something stand-up comedienne in New York City who is trying to find her way in the world. In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, Donna is spiraling. She’s had to deal with a breakup, hookup, and knock-up… oh my! From the very beginning, she knows she wants to get an abortion, but what about everything else that goes into that decision? Does she have enough money for the procedure? Should she tell her baby daddy Max (Jake Lacy)? This may sound like a dark, serious subject matter but writer/director Gillian Robespierre and Slate are tasteful in the storyline and jokes. The script stays true to the situation and characters. They are focused on truth, not shock-comedy.
Since Obvious Child is currently my favorite movie of 2014, you can imagine my excitement when I found out Director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate were going to be in town for interviews about the film. I was lucky enough to participate in a round-table interview with the brilliant filmmakers, where we talked about their new type of rom-com, Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the film, and the elephant in the room…Maria from Sesame Street. Check out the slightly edited interview below and make sure you go see Obvious Child this weekend!
**BEWARE OF SPOILERS! If you don’t want to know anything about the film, bookmark our interview and come back after you’ve seen the movie!
Dean Rogers (TheRogersRevue.com): Gillian, you made the Obvious Child short back in 2009. What made you decide to transition the short to a film five years later?
Gillian: Well, it was sitting in the editing room really… watching the footage from the short and realizing we had an amazing performance out of Jenny. But, I thought if we had a couple more thousands of trillions of dollars and a longer script, we could just go out tomorrow and shoot the rest of the movie. The story was good; she was so captivating. But, we didn’t have any of those so we snipped it, cut it off, and kept it a short and it was great! It was very well-received and it really encouraged me to go tell it in a bigger way and so I sat down and wrote the feature for Jenny.
Dean: Was she always your first choice?
Gillian: [jokingly] You know what? She really wasn’t.
Jenny: What if I wasn’t!
Gillian: I wanted my mom to be in it. [about Jenny] Yes, always.
Lauren Bradshaw (ClotureClub.com): I really liked that you drew back the curtain on romantic comedies and showed that the “happy ending” doesn’t always have to end with the character actually having a child. Can you talk about how you started thinking of that idea? Were there any other films that inspired you, where you thought, “Oh I wish that had ended differently.”
Gillian: A lot of films inspire me as a filmmaker and I think we have a happy ending, it’s just not tightly wrapped up perfectly because the movie is trying to be more authentic and honest to what being in your late 20’s is like. I thought these two people are sitting on a couch and for the next ten hours watching Gone With The Wind. They’re going to be together. They’re going to be supporting each other. They’re going to take snack breaks and make jokes and hold hands and maybe snuggle. To me, that felt like a happy ending.
Tierney Sneed (U.S. News & World Report): My favorite moment of the film is when [Jenny] your character is doing her standup routine the night before she’s going to get her abortion. There’s a line where you said, “I’m going to be on the list of women who’ve had this done and I know I’m not alone.” Why do you think it has taken so long to make a movie like this, where there can be an abortion and it can be an “okay” thing, we’re going to deal with it, we’re going to be funny, but we’re going to be honest … why do you think it has taken so long to get to that point?
Jenny: I don’t know why it has taken so long or what the one reason for that will be, but we live in a society where women’s rights are under attack and where things are not equal when they should be. I think, so far, the romantic comedy genre has been fairly mainstream and in that mainstream, it hasn’t felt comfortable, for one reason or another, because of the stigma to tell a more modern story. But, I think that things are changing and, in general, regardless of gender, people are looking towards humans who want to speak in their own authentic voice. It doesn’t just have to be about women’s rights. I think people just want to hear from other people and want to hear experiences that are true and real. And what you have in our movie is the kind of classic structure of a romantic comedy, all the things that make us feel satisfied and warm and happy and hopeful about love. There’s just a more modern story.
Gillian: Yeah, and we don’t believe that women should feel shame or judgment for making this choice. It’s private and complex but it also doesn’t need to be riddled with guilt.
Dean: Jenny, how did it feel to find out you were the leading lady of a film?
Jenny: Well, this experience was a little bit different from my other experiences for many reasons. I knew Gillian was writing this movie for me so it wasn’t like, “Ah you got the part!” But it did sort of feel that way when it was apparent that we really did have the funding and this film really was going to be made. That’s when it all came into focus for me. I always felt flattered that Gillian was writing this for me, but I felt that I had a lot of work cut out for me and I was grateful for that amount of work.
Dean: Tell us about the comradery you had with the cast, with Jake Lacy and Gaby Hoffmann…
Jenny: Well, each performer is different and we have different connections. I’ve known Gaby for a few years because she came and saw Gabe Liedman and I (who plays Joey in the film) doing standup. I think she and I have a really sweet sisterhood. I think that is something that is good to work off of. While our relationship in the film isn’t exactly like our relationship in life in any way, it’s something to build off of. Jake and I just really made each other laugh. We are both work horses and focused performers so we’re a good match. I think our work ethic and our love of laughter in our downtime is what tied us together from the start and made us a good pair.
Lauren: It says a lot for the script and your [Jenny’s] acting that it flowed so naturally. Was there a collaboration between you two with the script or was there already a script in place that you didn’t waiver from?
Jenny: When I read the script, to me it was perfect. It was very, very exciting and unlike anything I had read before because it paid such close attention to the way that people of our generation naturally talk. It really plugged into a vernacular that I find to be really delightful and really descriptive and authentic. We collaborated on the standup parts and Gil is confident enough within the scene work to let us fidget and play a little bit if something didn’t feel, while we were doing the performance, exactly right. But, we stuck to the script. It is a scripted movie. I think we had just the right amount of playfulness and Gil had control but allowed us to explore.
Lauren: Gillian, was there ever a time, while you were writing the script, that you had to pull back a little on the jokes just because it is a more touchy subject matter?
Gillian: Not really. The only time we pulled back on jokes was when they weren’t funny. When we were workshopping them for one day in San Francisco, we won a grant, and we would read them and were like, “Oh. Is that good?” “Ummm, no it’s not,” or “this is a great one! How about twisting it this way.” So that’s really it.
Tierney: Something that struck me from the very beginning was your character’s standup routine and how you were really honest about a woman’s body and fart jokes, etc. It struck me how rare it is that we see women really talk about the non-glamorous things about their bodies. When you were writing the story, was that part of a conscious decision that you wanted to make her comfortable about talking about the weird stuff about being a woman or did that organically spring from the character?
Gillian: Yeah, I mean that’s the kind of stuff I like to talk about. I think Jenny and I are both similar in that we have very similar tastes in humor and what tickles us. Usually that’s gynecological humor but it’s also humor about taking the reality of what’s going on with our bodies, our faces, everything and kind of spinning a little joke onto it. Also, Donna was the type of comedian… the type of comedian we wanted to craft is a storyteller onstage. She’s going to sort of kamikaze in, doesn’t really restrict anything. Whatever she has in her brain comes out of her mouth and she doesn’t censor herself. I like that. I like that she’s fearless onstage. Offstage she’s a little meek and it’s not that she’s two separate people… but onstage she has real strength and power, [whereas] offstage she’s really trying to figure it out.
Jenny: More passive.
Gillian: Very passive until the end where I think she really… in the booty shot, as we call it, in Planned Parenthood… the post-room where everyone is tapping their feet and she is trying to make connections with all of the other women. One woman won’t look at her and the other one… when the two of them lock eyes, there’s a subtle moment but you can see in Donna’s eyes that she’s stepped into a new chapter. She’s not going to always listen to that voice but I think she’s left passivity behind.
Tierney: You worked with Planned Parenthood for scenes. Can you talk a little bit about why it was important that you got those aspects of the movie right and the research or thought you put into showing how that works?
Gillian: Definitely. I didn’t want any of the dialogue between the friends or the mothers to not feel realistic, and that goes for the same with the doctor/Donna scenes. I didn’t want to write doctor dialogue based on an ER episode that I had seen. I wanted it to be true and real and the only way to get that right was to go right to the source. Planned Parenthood is one of the leading sources in the United States for women to go to for many reasons. Luckily, they read the script and loved it. They just had a few tweaks. It’s not like they said, “Well Donna shouldn’t talk about discharge.” They left the jokes to us. They really just focused in on the scenes and made sure the doctor didn’t say anything that was false or unrealistic. Then we got to shoot there, which was amazing, because in the short, we shot in my mom’s orthopedic doctor’s office. I didn’t even know how many tiny feet were all over those shots.
Dean: What are your favorite comedic films and Jenny, who were your influences growing up?
Jenny: I don’t know if I could pick one favorite comedy, but my favorite movie is Crossing Delancey. I really like Home Alone and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I love Uncle Buck as well. I have many, many favorites. I love Meet Me In St. Louis, which isn’t really a comedy. My influences? I would say Lily Tomlin, Ruth Gordon, Madeline Kahn, Gilda Radner, Maria from Sesame Street… [everyone laughs]
Lauren: Jenny, you usually play more over-the-top characters so I was so excited to see you play an average girl. Between over-the-top and normal, is there one that you prefer?
Jenny: Me too! I like the opportunity to play more real women because I love women and there are many different kinds of women to play. I don’t think I have a preference. I like to be active, I just want the writing to be good and to add to it. That’s all I desire… to work a lot and for it to be hopefully new and exciting. I don’t know that I have a preference, just good work. I like them both. I would have a sad life if I wasn’t able to be on Kroll Show. I love it. It’s my equivalent of being good at sports or something. It’s really turbo, really high energy and it takes a certain technique and I like that.
Lauren: I think Liz would like Obvious Child.