Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate Strip Bare the comedy of 'Obvious Child'
Obvious Child is that rare film comedy in which the twentysomething women look and talk like people you actually know. When we spoke with director Gillian Robespierre and actress Jenny Slate about the film's perfect blend of comedy, drama, and yes, abortion jokes, it became clear that their chemistry played a major role. Robespierre spoke of catching Slate's stand-up act during preproduction for the 2009 short version of the film. They fell in "work-love" on the set, and the full-length version was written "100 percent for Jenny." "I'm so lucky Gillian found me!" Slate squealed at one point. So are we.
Jenny Slate: To have a movie written for you, and a movie this well-written, that was a real career dream .... I was blown away by the nuances in the comedy, how natural it was, written in the vernacular without being twee or cutesy. It just seemed like a real grownup movie to me, that was comfortable enough in its own skin to be immature while being grownup.
Austin Chronicle: There is a real grownupness about Donna [the stand-up comedian played by Slate], even if she's a mess.
Gillian Robespierre: Donna may seem immature because she tells scatological jokes, but I actually think quite the opposite of her. I think she's a very responsible woman in her late 20s who's just trying to figure a lot out, all at once. With the unplanned pregnancy, she's actually very responsible and mature. She speaks to almost every person in her life about it, tries to gather intel about the procedure. And I think to be open and honest and to talk to your friends – and eventually she's able to tell her mom – I think that's a sign of somebody who's very wise.
Slate: There's a difference between being mature and taking yourself too seriously. I think Donna is very intelligent and mature, and I think she doesn't feel her adulthood is going to be erased if she makes jokes about farts. She's an artist, and that's what she creates. I don't know why people would say Donna is immature, or that her adulthood is stunted .... Read a book like Portnoy's Complaint ...: It's a piece of very highly valued American literature that is awesome. Donna happens to be a young woman, and people seem to feel that this is not a subject matter for a young woman to discuss. But, in fact, this is the way that all of my friends speak, male or female. It's a modern vernacular, and a modern form of storytelling that I find to be very delightful. I don't think it's gross at all.
AC: One of my favorite lines was the Gaby Hoffman comment when she's talking about her abortion, and she talks about feeling sorry for her teenage self.
Robespierre: We wanted every woman who talks about her life, and especially in regard to the abortion, to be complex. I don't think there's one way to discuss how you feel about something big in your life .... Things in our lives are surrounded by multiple feelings, and sometimes it's full of regret and sadness, and then you can heal. And we do heal.
Slate: We're allowed to be continually moved and touched by our own stories. Gaby's character Nellie, she couldn't tell her mom, she had to say she was at air hockey practice, and while they're all joking about it, it is a fact that there's a girl that she was, and now the girl in her head, who had to tell that lie and had to be by herself. And that is hard and sad, to have to tell that lie and be alone, and she still feels that sadness for her teenage self because she's grown so much since that day.
AC: Are you hoping to see abortion become more visible in film and TV?
Slate: We're seeking stories that really portray what it's like to live in our world right now. We'd like to see people who are –
Robespierre: – who are telling authentic stories, with an honest tone, about whatever, in a voice that is their own.
Slate: Yeah. I'd just like to replace not-useful stigmas with useful stories that are about people from our world, that are entertaining and fun.
Obvious Child opens in Austin on Friday, June 20. See Film Listings for review.