Obvious Child


Life can be cold even for the very cute.

Life can be cold even for the very cute.

(2014) Comedy (A24) Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, Gabe Liedman, Paul Briganti, Cindy Cheung, Stephen Singer, Cyrus McQueen, Emily Tremaine, Ramses Alexandre, Julie Zimmer, Ernest Mingione, Stacey Sargeant, Amy Novando, Crystal Lonneberg, Suzanne Lenz. Directed by Gillian Robespierre

One of the results of unprotected sex can be a pregnancy that is unplanned for and unwanted. Women have several options open to them, although not everyone wants it that way.

Donna Stern (Slate) is a budding standup comic who works in a used bookstore by day. She is a classic New York underachiever, one who has vague goals but is in no particular hurry to get to them. She’s been seeing Ryan (Briganti) for years now and is somewhat ambivalent towards marriage or at least, it’s not a subject that comes up.

Her standup routine is full of the juices of life. Lots of farting, the state of women’s panties at the end of the day, skid marks and the fluids of sex. It isn’t for the squeamish which might explain why she’s still in a somewhat rough and tumble Brooklyn bar providing free entertainment for Williamsburg hipsters who are too cheap to pay for it. When she talks about the sex life with her boyfriend as being somewhat routine and predictable while he watches her set, that’s the last straw. That and, oh, him having been sleeping with her friend Lacey (Tremaine) for several months. He dumps her in the unisex graffiti-covered bathroom that looks like something that veteran CDC doctors would run screaming into the night from which I suppose is as appropriate a place to get dumped as any – considering her act, getting dumped in a bathroom has no irony whatsoever.

She also finds out that the bookstore she has been working for has lost its lease and is going to close its doors forever in about six weeks. No job, no money, no boyfriend – things couldn’t be worse for Donna. She takes solace in her support system – her close friends Nellie (Hoffmann) and fellow comedian Joey (Liedman), as well as her Dad (Kind) who works as a Henson-like puppeteer for a successful TV show. Her cold fish Mom (Draper), divorced from her Dad and a very successful business school instructor, tries to motivate her daughter to find new work without much success.

Donna’s next standup gig is an utter train wreck as she ascends the stage completely off-her-ass drunk and proceeds to go into a drunken rant about her break-up that is as unfunny as it is awkward. The only plus of the evening is that she meets nice-guy Max (Lacy) at the bar, continues to get drunker and ends up at his apartment for a night of mindless, meaningless sex. She leaves the next morning without leaving a note.

Not long afterwards she discovers that mindless, meaningless sex can get you pregnant too, even though she was pretty sure they’d used protection in the form of a condom. She’s not really 100% sure on that point – not that it matters because a condom really isn’t 100% protection against pregnancy either. The thing is, she is preggers and the one thing she’s sure about is that she’s not ready to be a mom. She’s not ready to be pregnant either considering her uncertain future, her lack of funds and job and without a partner to help her out. An abortion seems to be the best choice for her given the circumstances.

Once this decision is made, she’s unsure that she wants to tell her mother about it, sure that her mom will see this as yet another failure in life by her disappointment of a daughter. Also, she keeps running into Max unexpectedly and he clearly likes her. A lot and she thinks she might like him too, even though he’s as gentile as a Christmas tree in Rockefeller plaza and she’s the menorah at the top that burns the whole damn tree down.

Some will see this as a movie about abortion but as film critic Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle points out, the better movie would be about the woman having that abortion and Robespierre wisely realizes that. The decision for Donna is a simple one from a practical standpoint but emotionally she’s unsure of what to do, how to feel and she asks Nellie, who’s had one, whether she thinks about it (she does but she doesn’t think she made the wrong choice).

Slate, who was on Saturday Night Live for a season and famously dropped an F bomb in her first episode, does a star turn here in the role of Donna. Donna uses her sense of humor as something of a shield against her own vulnerability and has no filter whatsoever. That endears her to those willing to put the effort in to get to know her. She is far from perfect although she is cute as a button. To my mind, Slate has far more upside than a lot of actresses who have come from standpoint and should easily join the ranks of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph as graduates of SNL to stardom, although I think the big screen would be far more appropriate than television as a medium for her talents.

She gets some good support from Liedman (her sketch partner in real life) and Hoffmann and Lacy, who was a regular on The Office makes a fine straight man. I like that Robespierre chose not to give us the glamorized indie version of New York where people work in creative jobs, live in amazing lofts they couldn’t possibly afford and eat out and hang out at hipster clubs every night while showing up to work fresh as a daisy the next day. The places Donna and her friends can afford to hang out in are mostly pretty dingy and Donna’s apartment is tiny and far from glitzy. This is the life someone in her situation would be leading for real.

Inevitably there is going to be some politicization of the film’s subject matter but be assured there’s none in the film whatsoever. The conservative religious right tend to portray abortions as something done by sluts without any sort of care or consequence but that’s not what happens here. Donna while vulnerable and impaired has unprotected sex which might be characterized as a foolish mistake but she is not someone who seems inclined to sleep around – in fact, she has a scene with veteran comic David Cross in which she turns him down for sex.

What really makes this film worth seeing are a pair of scene near the movie’s end. The first is when Donna is having her abortion and has been given a sedative to relax her. As the procedure begins, we see a tear rolling down from her eye. Even more powerful is the scene that follows when Donna and the other women who have just undergone the procedure sitting in the recovery room and exchanging glances. No dialogue is said but the looks on their faces say it all – this was not a decision entered into lightly and the consequences are absolutely on all of their minds.

In an era when a woman’s right to choose is under concerted attack from Tea Party politicians and where choices to have abortions are becoming much more scarce in Red States, a movie like this becomes much more necessary and meaningful. While I’m not sure this will change any Right to Lifers minds on the subject, it serves as a vivid reminder that for all the hysteria and noise generated by that group, women in general are not ignorant of the consequences of their ability to make that choice – and that it is a hard choice even if the practical side is easy. From that standpoint, this is an essential film and while I found the nature of Donna’s comedy unappealing, I loved the character in a big way because of her flaws and imperfections. Donna is the kind of woman you probably know already. If you don’t, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to find this movie either at your local art house or soon when it comes to home video and get to know her.

REASONS TO GO: A realistic look at the effects of unwanted pregnancies on real women and the choices they must face. Slate shows that she is ready to be the next great film comedienne.

REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessarily scatological. Too many awkward moments.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of rough language and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie’s title comes from the first track on the 1990 Paul Simon album The Rhythm of the Saints.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/9/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Punchline

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Exit Through the Gift Shop


Exit Through the Gift Shop

The mysterious Banksy.

(Producers Distribution Agency) Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Rhys Ifans (voice), The Space Invader, Swoon, Cheez, Neckface, Coma. Directed by Banksy

Street art is a phenomenon that grew out of the tagging and graffiti movement. Some have described it as “guerilla art” and that might not be a bad tag for it. The practitioners operate under cover of night and ply their trade with spray cans, stickers and mosaic tiles, among other mediums.

Some see it as a valid form of self-expression; others see it as blatant vandalism. Needless to say, there is a polarizing element to the art form and that can’t be a bad thing. Art, after all, is supposed to invite discussion.

French expat Guetta lives in Los Angeles. He moved there in the late ‘80s, opening up a vintage clothing store that often had big stars browsing in it. He was known in the city for constantly filming everything on his video camera. On a visit to his native land, he hooked up with his cousin, who had a quirky hobby of his own; he liked to put mosaic tiles of space invader-like figures in public places. Calling himself The Space Invader for obvious reasons, he had become a leading member of the highly cliquish street art scene which kept their anonymity with an almost jealous zeal.

Thierry grew fascinated with this scene – the dangerous aspect of it (the adrenaline rush of avoiding cops and security guards) appealed to him. Through his cousin he was introduced to Fairey, who also based himself in L.A. and Guetta videotaped his street art. The feeling among the street artists was that their art was very transitory by nature; it wouldn’t last long before someone took it down. In order to document their art, they turned to Thierry who was only too happy to oblige.

Under the guise of making a documentary about the street art scene, Guetta was given access to almost all of the leading personalities in the street art scene – all save one, the most notorious one of all. In London, the name of Banksy is well-known, particularly for his images of mice doing odd things. Banksy’s art was bold, caustic and full of a biting wit, too clever by half you might say. He was known for strictly preserving his identity, working only with people he knew well. To this day, the general public and the authorities have not a clue who he is.

At last, through Shepard Fairey, Thierry and Banksy were introduced. Thierry was very much taken by the brash young Englishman and for his part Banksy grew to trust Thierry, allowing him to film in his inner sanctum. On a visit to Los Angeles, Banksy notoriously put a figure of a hooded and bound figure alongside the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland with Thierry filming the whole thing. However, while Thierry was arrested by Disney security, Banksy got away scot free.

However, with years and years of shooting street artists and thousands of hours of footage to winnow through, Thierry’s subjects were becoming restless waiting for the documentary to be made. Thierry knew he had to at last make the film he had never intended to make. Knowing nothing about editing, scoring or anything in fact about filmmaking other than pointing a camera at his subjects, Thierry set out to create his masterpiece.

With Banksy being the subject he most admired, he screened it for him first. Banksy was mortified; the documentary was just terrible. Banksy figured that he could do no worse, so he took the footage and gave Thierry the instructions to “go make some art and put together a show.”

This documentary is the result of Banksy’s efforts and it takes a total turn at this point. Thierry adopts the persona of Mr. Brainwash and decides to put together a major event show in Los Angeles, despite knowing nothing about art or installing a show. He does know a thing or two about self-promotion and manages to capture the attention of the L.A. Weekly who give him a cover story which whips up a frenzy among modern art collectors, despite the fact most of the work is really awful and lazy; Mr. Brainwash takes existing images from the Internet and spray paints eye-patches on them, or Marilyn Monroe wigs.

We see Banksy as a narrator, but his face is always obscured by a hood and his voice distorted electronically; he really is serious about maintaining his anonymity. He wisely turns this from a documentary on street art to one about Thierry who is one of those magnificent eccentrics who give life some flavor. In many ways, he’s more interesting than the artists he was documenting. For his part, Banksy feels at once chagrined and pleased at the creation of the Mr. Brainwash persona; the artwork is somewhat atrocious but at the same time Banksy seems to admire Thierry’s fearlessness.

One gets a feeling throughout this film that we’re being conned a little bit. For example, Thierry proclaims that he had erased all the Disney footage from his camera when he was being interrogated by the security guards, but we are shown footage of Banksy crossing the fence and placing the figure alongside the track, and the trains being stopped shortly afterwards.

If it is a con, it’s a fascinating one and I don’t personally mind being conned in that way. The movie has a wicked sense of humor and there is a slickness and slyness to it that is refreshing and charming in its way. It also makes tremendous use of a great and sadly underrated song – Richard Hawley’s “Tonight the Streets Are Ours.”

There is a lot of ego involved here, from Thierry to Banksy to the artists themselves who take the stance that art outweighs all else. That’s like a blogger saying the most important things in the world are blogs and I, for one, would never assert something that preposterous. It sure as heck ain’t brain surgery…but is it art? That’s for you to decide.

REASONS TO GO: While initially slated to be a documentary about street art, it morphed into something completely different.

REASONS TO STAY: There’s a whole lot of ego involved in this project and quite frankly I’m not sure if the viewer isn’t the butt of the joke.

FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly blue language and smoking. There is also a fine line between art and vandalism here and it should be noted that those who find the lifestyle alluring might not know the difference.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fairey would later go on to design the Barack Obama “Hope” image that figured so prominently in his campaign.

HOME OR THEATER: Definitely more suited to home viewing than a big theater.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Afghan Star