Young adult

This latte obviously needs a shot of something stronger than espresso.

This latte obviously needs a shot of something stronger than espresso.

Rated 3.0

Writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child takes its title from the Paul Simon song, which makes a cameo appearance on the movie’s soundtrack. Exactly what Simon’s song actually has to do with Robespierre’s story of a struggling stand-up comic who finds herself dumped, fired and pregnant (in that order) is hard to say; it could simply be that the movie’s heroine Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) has, even at the age of 28, some growing up to do.

Donna’s regular job is as a clerk in a little Manhattan hole-in-the-wall bookstore, but her heart goes into her stand-up routines at a little hole-in-the-wall club. In fact, Donna seems to be living a hole-in-the-wall life. Her comedy is the kind that draws chuckles rather than laughs—and those come only because in such a small house nobody wants to risk standing out as the one who isn’t responding at all.

We first see Donna on the club’s tiny stage, making jokes about herself, her boyfriend Ryan (Paul Briganti) and their sex life. Then later, in the club’s unisex bathroom, as male and female patrons traipse in and out, Ryan breaks up with Donna, telling her that things have been “fucked up” between them for a long time, and that he’s been sleeping with a friend of hers. Getting dumped is bad enough; what makes it worse is Ryan’s staring at his smartphone during the whole conversation. “I don’t know where to look,” he tells her. Donna points at her face. “This general area would be good.”

Donna’s best friend Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) tells her she’s well rid of Ryan, but Donna doesn’t handle it well. She keeps calling him and leaving drunken voice mails wishing him luck with the HPV he’s getting from his new lover, then leaving even drunker voice mails apologizing for the voice mails she just left. Then her boss at the bookstore breaks the news that he’s lost his lease and has only a few weeks to pack up all the books and clear out.

Drunk again—or still drunk—she vents on the stage of her comedy club, in a routine that doesn’t even draw the polite chuckles she usually gets, just a squirmy silence and averted eyes. That’s the night she meets Max (Jake Lacy), a customer who showed up too late to catch her embarrassing herself onstage, which enables Donna and one of the other club comics, Joey (Gabe Liedman) to regale Max with tales of her triumph before he arrived. Donna and Max hit it off and hook up in a welter of drunken hilarity. The next morning, hung over and rueful, she slinks out of his apartment without waking him.

When her period is a week late, Nellie grills her: Did she really have unprotected sex? Donna isn’t sure: “I think I remember seeing a condom, but I’m not sure what it actually did.” Nothing, apparently: The test comes back positive, twice. A visit to Planned Parenthood confirms it, and Donna decides to get an abortion. Meanwhile, to her astonishment, Max looks her up again, sober this time, and still interested. Donna’s interested, too, but there’s this awkward bit of news she has, and her life isn’t together enough for a moment ever to come up when she feels it’s the right time to tell him. Her divorced parents (Richard Kind, Polly Draper) are loving but little help; she can’t tell them, either.

Obvious Child has an earnest indie-movie sweetness that’s oddly winning, despite its unromantic crust of cheerful profanity. It’s pleasantly prickly and interesting, and Slate makes Donna’s slacker angst comical and touching by turns. At the same time, Robespierre can’t always conceal the formula she’s working from, one we know from slicker, more upscale studio rom-coms. Hoffmann’s Nellie is little more than the standard wisecracking woman pal, while Liedman’s Joey is just another gay best friend from Central Casting. Briganti’s Ryan is a stereotypical rat-bastard ex, and in many ways, Max is written to be no more than the anti-Ryan (Jake Lacy, like Slate, has an appealing presence that fills in the gaps written into the character).

There’s a raunchy, female Woody Allen-from-the-1970s vibe to Obvious Child that rings an overfamiliar bell. We’ve seen much of this before, but it goes down easily enough this time.