romantic comedy

Obvious Child is a Romantic Comedy About How People Actually Meet. Should You See it?

obviouschild

Alex Russell

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see Jenny Slate’s romantic comedy Obvious Child?

One of the weirdest parts of pop culture now is that if you really love something, it starts to feel like it’s one of the biggest things in the world even when it isn’t. You can follow a hashtag or go down a Tumblr or YouTube hole and suddenly that one Comedy Central show you really, really like feels like it just must be something everyone you know is all about.

Obvious Child inundated my digital life last week. It’s a movie that did well enough at Sundance earlier this year to earn a bigger release this month. Jenny Slate (Kroll Show, Parks and Recreation, Bob’s Burgers) did a sort of “comedy nerd” press junket to promote it on a lot of podcasts, but it’s entirely possible you haven’t heard much about it.

Jenny Slate plays a stand up comic who gets dumped after being too open on stage about her relationship. She’s in that mid-20s period where people have to make decisions about how to stop taking money from their parents, how to have a stable relationship and still be their own person, and how to get and keep a job that doesn’t suck. It’s a relatable premise.

Then, well, let’s get this out of the way: even though the director has said it’s not “an abortion comedy,” it is definitely a film that deals with abortion. Jenny Slate’s character has a one-night stand and decides to have an abortion. That’s not giving anything away; it’s the hook of the whole experience.

Questions come up. How do you have a conversation about this with someone you don’t know? How do you tell your parents? How do you tell your friends? How do you tell a group of strangers that you talk to with a microphone?

Obvious Child will rub people different ways based on their feelings about abortion, but it may also have the same effect based on how people feel about relationships in general. Jenny Slate’s character is funny and goofy, but she’s also “independent” even though that word has lost some specific meaning in some ways. The portrayal of her decision to have an abortion is absolute; she asks a friend if the experience hurts or not, but it’s clearly not part of the decision. This is not a movie that wants to tell you if you should have an abortion or not, but Jenny Slate’s character is a look into what the process looks like for someone who has their mind made up.

Should You See It? 

Well, someone sure should. Obvious Child made $133,000 this weekend in 18 theaters. It’s still in limited release (Frozen is still in more theaters than that in week 30 of release and The LEGO Movie is in over 15 times that many in week 20) but you should try to see it if you can. It’s an extremely refreshing romantic comedy both in subject matter and in characterization; these are real people who meet because they get a little drunk and flirt with each other. Every movie should try to show an interesting version of an emotion you understand or feel on some level, and the weight of an important decision when life is already weighing very heavily is spot damn on for that.

Obvious Child is in limited release until June 27, when it is released everywhere. See the trailer here.

Image source: Sundance

Worst Best Picture: Is It Happened One Night Better or Worse Than Crash?

ithappenedonenight

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. This is intended to be mostly spoiler-free, but there may be minor details mentioned. Today’s installment is the 1934 winner It Happened One Night. Is it better than Crash?

It’s very strange to consider what has become the “canon” of romantic films. Movies like CasablancaRoman Holiday, and Annie Hall are the standards by which every portrayal of romance is judged. It Happened One Night escaped my radar for the most part, but it’s definitely a movie that is in that list of ideal films.

As I watch every Best Picture Oscar winner I am struck by how few of these I’ve actually seen. There are a ton of movies — How Green Was My Valley comes to mind whenever I look at the full list — that I am vaguely aware of, but mostly they just don’t exist in my mental database. I don’t claim to be a qualified judge of all of film history, but I do appreciate a good movie. It Happened One Night is a good movie.

Clark Gable is a down-on-his-luck reporter, and he stumbles across the biggest news story in the country when Claudette Colbert enters his life. She’s on the run from her rich father and on the way to New York to be with her new husband. There’s a reward for her return, and Gable plans to either collect or to cash in by telling her story. He’s just gotta not fall in love along the way, d’awww!

I won’t pretend I walked into a movie from 1934 expecting something genuinely sweet and funny. There are an insane number of cuts — one extremely important scene in a bedroom cuts three times in as many minutes — and some of the wackier stuff doesn’t really work. In the opening scene, Claudette Colbert jumps off of a boat to swim to Florida. A man runs into a swamp because he’s afraid. Another man is tied to a tree and left to die, and that story is just abandoned. A guy lands a helicopter at a wedding. There’s some wild madness going on in the background, but the leading couple carries the load of it well. They both give superhuman performances; they’re both interesting, memorable, and sincerely funny even by modern standards.

Some classics are “important” and some are good. I can’t speak to how crucial It Happened One Night is to the rom-com as a genre, but it’s a movie from eight decades ago that wouldn’t need much updating to be released this summer. It’s worth your time, even if you aren’t watching all 86 of these.

The Best Part: On their first night alone together the couple is forced to pretend to be married to avoid suspicion. It’s a very sweet scene, and it’s played with a mix of playfulness and restraint. Paired with a scene in the morning where they throw a fake fight/screaming match to convince the cops they’re actually married, it’s damned excellent. It would need zero updating to work in 2014.

The Worst Part: On the way to New York the couple hitchhikes with a guy who sings everything he says. He is completely unexplained. I cannot tell you why this man sings his sentences. At one point someone flies an “autogyro” into a wedding, and I can explain that more than this man.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashIt’s a Clark Gable romantic comedy from the 1930s. You don’t need me to write this to know it’s “a good movie.” It’s the kind of movie that makes this whole thing silly. Is it better than Crash? It has Clark Damn Gable in it. The point of this project is to explore the idea that awards and praise don’t necessarily mean a movie is “great,” but of course this one is. Above all else it’s fascinating how timeless much of it is. Some plot elements — a woman runs away and is front page news for weeks in a row — are absurd now, but the jokes all still work. It’s actually funny even in 2014. Crash was instantly dated and will get more so as time advances. This, so long as people can forget some of their cynicism for a second, will endure.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 Image source: Oscars.org