“Obvious Child” stars former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jenny Slate as Donna Stern, a somewhat stunted and bawdy comedienne who gets dumped, loses her job and becomes unexpectedly pregnant in a matter of weeks.
The film began as a 20-minute short in 2009, but first-time director Gillian Robespierre, who wrote the story with friends Anna Bean and Karen Maine, knew the narrative she wanted to tell from the very beginning.
“[We] started always knowing that this character was going to face an unplanned pregnancy and have an abortion,” Robespierre told me in a recent interview. “And it was gonna be safe and she’ll have access – there won’t be protestors, there won’t be anyone in her circle who is opposed to it. The conflict was never gonna be whether she would have the abortion or not have the abortion.”
Instead, the story is driven by Donna’s struggle to pick up the pieces of her life, traverse new emotional frontiers and explore a relationship with the one-night stand (Jake Lacey) partially responsible for her pregnancy.
“The conflict we found to be exciting and fun was to have her and the leading man have a bunch of these romantic-comedy run-ins,” Robespierre said. “We really wanted to tell this story in the classic romantic-comedy genre, because they’re the movies that we so much love and feel so close to.”
She added, “And, also, the idea of humanizing the [abortion] choice through humor and having characters be actually funny characters.”
While “Obvious Child” has been met with considerable conservative derision, film critics have overwhelmingly praised the movie – and its unflinching portrayal of this controversial subject matter – since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. To boot, the film features an irresistibly quirky breakout performance from 32-year-old Slate, who also starred in the short version, and a palpable chemistry between leads.
“[Jenny and Jake’s] first meeting was when they were both getting wardrobe fittings done two days before we started principal photography,” Robespierre recalled. “We really were excited about finding a perfect match – a young man who was very funny, good looking, but also had comic timing and depth to his acting. And that’s Jake Lacey. We just happened to luck out that their chemistry was as magical as it was, but I think they’re also both such amazing actors that it really wasn’t luck.”
“Obvious Child” was shot in only 18 days and, as Robespierre explained, each day brought its own unique challenges. For example, Slate’s soon-to-be-famous comedy club scenes were shot at 7 a.m., which the director said felt “unnatural.” To capture that late-night atmosphere and authentic reactions, Gillian encouraged the crew to sit in the audience and enjoy the jokes.
“We did not wanna be stuck in the editing room with no laughs, having to find laugh tracks that are just leftovers from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’” she quipped.
Robespierre also pushed for an authentic location to shoot the scene in which Donna visits an abortion clinic. For the 20-minute short, this sequence was filmed at the office of Gillian’s mom’s foot doctor, but producers got permission to use a real Planned Parenthood location in New Rochelle, New York for the feature-length flick.
“We were all a little bit nervous about going to Planned Parenthood,” Robespierre told me. “We were just sort of wondering how that day was gonna go. I think we were all anticipating it being a hard shoot day – hard for the crew, hard for the cast – but it turned out to be totally opposite of how we imagined and the best day we had on set.”
And, according to the director, the non-profit organization became more than just a set piece.
“They really became a great collaborator and partner in making ‘Obvious Child,’” she said. “We sent them a draft of the script while we were going to pre-production. They loved it. We just wanted to make sure all the things that the nurse was saying were realistic and accurate, and they said, ‘Cool. Yes. Make a change here or there.’ Ultimately, they were really happy to tell the story in this way, to be a part of it.”
With “Obvious Child” now available to own with XFINITY On Demand, Robespierre is preparing to tell a new story. And, yes, it will probably ruffle some feathers, too.
“Right now, it’s called ‘Untitled Divorce Comedy,’” she said with a laugh.
“Obvious Child” is now available to own with XFINITY On Demand. Click here for more info.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.