Obvious Child, the sarcastic and smart female empowered romantic comedy has garnered a lot of attention since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. With very few authentic movies about women, Obvious Child breaks barriers from the serious subject matter of abortion to the lighter moments involving navigating the awkwardness of relationships. A24, a studio on the cutting edge of modern cinema is releasing the movie this summer. Obvious Child is a perfect alternative for male driven action movies and comic book adaptations that fill the theaters every summer. Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre had a chance to share with audiences about being a female director, casting Jenny Slate, and what keeps her up at night.
Synopsis: For aspiring comedian Donna Stern, everyday life as a female twenty-something provides ample material for her incredibly relatable brand of humor. On stage, Donna is unapologetically herself, joking about topics as intimate as her sex life and as crude as her day-old underwear. But when Donna gets dumped, loses her job, and finds herself pregnant just in time for Valentine’s Day, she has to navigate the murky waters of independent adulthood for the first time. As she grapples with an uncertain financial future, an unwanted pregnancy, and a surprising new suitor, Donna begins to discover that the most terrifying thing about adulthood isn’t facing it all on her own. It’s allowing herself to accept the support and love of others. And be truly vulnerable. Never failing to find the comedy and humanity in each awkward situation she encounters, Donna finds out along the way what it means to be as brave in life as she is on stage. Anchored by a breakout performance from Jenny Slate, OBVIOUS CHILD is a winning discovery, packed tight with raw, energetic comedy and moments of poignant human honesty. Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre handles the topic of Donna’s unwanted pregnancy with a refreshing matter-of-factness rarely seen onscreen. And with Donna, Slate and Robespierre have crafted a character for the ages – a female audiences will recognize, cheer for, and love. (C) A24
Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre knew she was breaking the mold with the taboo subject matter featured in Obvious Child. Female driven movies aren’t as common in an industry that should cater to all of society. Robespierre knew she was creating a very niche movie for an under served audience.
“There is a limited representation in movies and not just romantic comedies but movies dealing with women and unplanned pregnancy,” Robespierre said.
Gillian Robespierre’s conception for Obvious Child originated from a short she worked on a few years prior as well as the inspiration to create a strong character that women of the 21st century would understand.
“It started there and grew into this idea of writing and having an actually funny romantic comedy where you are laughing a lot and the character is a real woman and she isn’t just a yellowed hair maiden who gets a makeover, but she’s someone you can relate to,” she said.
Comedian Jenny Slate became involved in this project in a very unexpected way: good, old-fashioned talent discovery. Roberspierre struggled with finding the perfect actress for the role of Donna. To take her mind of off the stress of casting, she went to attend a free comedy show and happened to see Jenny Slate’s routine. Roberspierre was drawn to her raw and authentic comedy performance, and dynamic stage presence.
“She was so funny and honest. But also she had a lot of warmth on that stage,” Roberspierre said. “She could be my best friend so I sent her the script. I was lucky to be her friend and send her drafts and revisions. Obviously the stand up in the feature was a collaborative moment which was mostly just Jenny improvising on stage.”
In regarding the uncomfortable and divisive subject of abortion and how it is rarely discussed in movies, Gillian Robespierre didn’t shy away from the tough choice nor make light of the serious decision. Female audiences could sympathize with her.
“I feel like I’ve seen that movie before with a character that has that struggle, ‘will I, wont I,’” she said. “It’s a very difficult decision to make and I’m not making light of that moment. I just feel like in mainstream movies and other movies I’ve seen before in general, I’ve seen that decision many time. I just wanted to skip that part and go to the other things that happen in your life.”
What Robespierre truly valued in her screenplay is the relationship between Donna and her mother (played by actress Polly Draper). She wanted an energy and a trust to be felt and believed by the audience. Also, Donna to be shaped by her parents who shaped her characteristics and supported her life transitions.
“Basically it is a story that is important because I wanted this mother and daughter to have a grown up conversation,” she said. “Something that they haven’t had in really long time and something that they really needed. I wanted Donna’s parents to be this great combination of what made her who she is. The character you see on screen is thoughtful, funny, goofy but also smart. I wanted to make her dad creative and her mom to have the brains.”
Statistics from the Directors Guild of America show that female directors are losing ground the last few years as filmmakers. Gillian Robespierre is anxious about the statistic but it gives her inspiration and determination to wake up every day to diversify the cinematic experience for female audiences.
“It is terrifying and [the number of female directors] does keep dropping which is strange because it feels like the time of the story teller and it can be done without that much money. I took that [DGA] information, had nightmares about it, and woke up and did what I needed to do as a filmmaker,” she said.
Obvious Child is now playing in select theaters. I highly recommend audiences find a theater showing this comedy. I found it to be refreshing, challenging and very funny.
Writer’s Note: Gillian Robespierre joined the audience via Skype in to a post Q/A session after a screening of Obvious Child in March at the Women+Film VOICES Film Festival (which is an outstanding festival that spotlights female focused films).