Hollywood loves happy endings especially for romantic comedies, but for writer and director Gillian Robespierre, it was clearly the natural choice for her new film, “Obvious Child.” The stars stars Jenny Slate as Donna Stern– a brutally honest, but quirky comedian who gets dumped, fired and pregnant just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann and David Cross round out the cast for a funny take on self-discovery and facing the palpable future.
“Obvious Child” is Gillian’s feature directorial debut and is based on her 2009 short film of the same name which also stars Jenny. The feature film has garnered acclaim, premiering at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival winning the Red Crown Producer’s Award, and being bought by A24 for distribution. We caught up with both ladies, Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate, to find out what makes Obvious Child a clear choice for moviegoers and critics alike.
“We had a couple of goals. One was to write a romantic comedy that actually had a funny leading lady who was relatable and realistic and authentic, somebody who looks and sounds like us,” said Gillian. “A lot of romantic comedies don’t have the brown-haired big-nose girl. We just wanted somebody who had a real voice and tone that felt a little more authentic, and we also wanted to show a regret-free, safe abortion.”
For the director, “Obvious Child” is not simply about abortion, nor does it make light of or hype it. Gillian explains, “We are not glorifying abortion. I don’t think abortion is a procedure that can be glorified….This character is not going through this glibly. She is thoughtful and rational and mature about it. I know she tells a lot of shit and piss jokes, but she is talking to every person in her life about what is going on.”
Jenny echoed the same sentiments saying, “even though Donna’s choice is really clear, she still has [a] really complicated experience….For me, filming that [abortion] scene, she is sedated [and] it’s kind of funny…but that sense of being alone…is overwhelming for her and she does cry, and it’s scary to go to the doctor. So for me, I am like, she is allowed to cry and it sucks that women’s rights are under attack, in such away, that we are not allowed to shed a tear or else we think that abortion is wrong of course; it is more than that. It’s complex.”
Though the film deals with the difficult dilemma of an unplanned pregnancy and subsequent abortion, Gillian chose to make the film a romantic comedy rather than a dramatic feature. She said, “we wanted the tradition[al] romantic comedy happy ending. I just felt that a romantic comedy was a great structure…because it’s really a genre. I love it and we just wanted it to be entertaining and palatable and not a horrific experience for anyone, including the viewer.” She explained that romantic comedies have the possibility to be much more than a chick flick. “I think romantic comedies get that rap that they are only for women, and I sat down with my fiancé two nights ago, and we watched ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ and he had never seen it before, [and he] fucking loved it.”
Gillian did confess that it was not easy finding a leading lady to play the funny, but fragile Donna Stern.
“It was kind of difficult because the person [actress] had to be funny and also have dramatic range…and it happened by happenstance that we were at the comedy show and there she was on [a comedy] stage.” Jenny joked, “I have never acted professionally before. I have always wanted to be an actress, but I ended up in comedy because that was like [what I was] the most confident in.” Gillian added, “Yes, she [Jenny Slate] is my muse. I feel like we lucked out finding each other for the short [film] and when I sat down to write the feature it was for Jenny. So I was able to sort of climb into her brain as best as I could and write [the movie] for her. Also, we share the same scatological sense of humor.”
That same sense of humor and the close bond that these women share is what really makes the movie a gem. It can leave the audience wondering what was in the script, especially when it comes to jokes and dialogue, and what was improvised.
“You know Gillian really wrote it, and I really only stepped into work on the material for the standup parts,” Jenny admitted. She also noted that she lent a few of her jokes from her standup routine to the film, but “everything else was really from Gillian. She would yell out [and] talk about this and I would talk about it, and there would be specific lines that she had written that I would make sure to say. So it was truly collaborative, I mean it was like I have describe[d] it– as two people doing a dance, but one person is invisible,” she elaborated. Gillian adds that their bond “formed while making the short” and over the last couple of years that it took them to create the feature film. “This character has been with [Jenny] for just as long as it has been with me. So we got to both know exactly what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. We knew Donna better than we did five years ago and we really trust each other,” Gillian said.
This bond between Gillian and Jenny continues to deepen. Gillian is currently working on her next film, which will also have a specially written part for Jenny. Meanwhile, Jenny has yet another acting gig apart from being on “Parks and Recreation.” She has a new show coming to FX on July 21st called “Married” with Judy Greer and Nat Faxon, Being from Massachusetts, Jenny admits, “I would love to shoot in Boston. It would be hard to tell my parents that I wasn’t going to live in their house during that time, but yeah I would love to shoot in Boston. It would be kind of nice to be in my childhood town and be an adult doing my childhood dream.”