Is the emergence of unique voices or singular perspectives weaving compelling stories what keeps cinema refreshing and in constant evolution. There is only once chance to make a startling first impression, and the artist behind the strikingly honest and hilarious comedy “Obvious Child” have really left a mark. Gillian Robespierre & Jenny Slate have surpassed the traditional relationship between directors and actors. Like it seldom happens, their voices are in synchrony, a marvelous connection that unifies performance with storytelling to create something remarkable. This is the story of a young stand-up comedian, Dona, who is not only trying to figure her life out, but also deciding that motherhood is not the right thing for her just yet.
The film recently screened at the Champs-Elysees Film Festival and is expanding across the U.S.
The charming duo talked to us about the origins of the film, Donna’s vulnerability, and Jenny’s fear of being alone.
On the short film that inspired the feature
Gillian: We created a really sweet romantic comedy conflict between Donna and Jake's character, Max, who wasn’t on the short because we didn't have that much time. We had a really great opportunity while expanding, to create a fun world for Donna full of self-sabotaging, full of stand up comedy - which was not on the short – as well as encounters with the male character. We created complex friendships with Nellie, played by Gaby Hoffmann and Joey, played by Gabe Liedman. We also created parents who are loving and also very different from each other. We also wanted to show her life as a stand up comedian, there are a lot differences but the heart was always the same.
Jenny Slate on her relationship with Donna
Jenny : I think it’s in my nature to be expressive in an open way, I think it comes from wanting to not be alone. For Donna I think it’s different. I don’t think she has that fear of being alone because if you notice she has a pretty small life. I, as a person, have a rather large extended group of friends because I do feel like I don’t like to be alone. That’s something I’ve found peace with. I’m chatty, I don’t like silence very much, and I’m like the dog that barks the whole time that someone leaves the house.
Donna is not that way. But I do understand being born with an expressive nature and finding a way to use that in a way that I useful for you. I was really interested in Donna’s journey in the film, a journey that’s starts with her being passive. She is raw material of expression. She doesn’t’ understand the different ways that these can help or hurt her. Not just expression on stage, but to me one of the most interesting things is her trying to figure out how to tell the story of her decision to get the abortion to people that she is close with. She knows how to talk to people that she doesn’t know at all but this is the one story that she’s had to keep in. It is just another story in a life of stories for her.
Jenny Slate on her stand up career
Jenny: I care about being thoughtful and being entertaining. If the subject matter is too much for people, then they should watch somebody else. I’ve never gotten a reaction where someone was like “That was really gross,” and I definitely go on stage and talk about being horny and talk about having diarrhea and a million other things that people think are on the bluer side, but for me they are just cool. People are often surprised that it can be delightful.
On being mature and Donna’s journey
Gillian: We don’t think Donna is a child. I didn’t go about writing her as a child and Jenny didn’t think of performing her as a somebody that is so immature that can’t handle that chapter in her life. But she can’t have a child because she is not emotionally ready, financially ready, intellectually ready, but not in an immature way but more because she thinks “This is the wrong time in my life to do this”.
We also didn’t want to tell a story about that person, we wanted to show the other choice, which is the right choice for this character. We are telling one woman’s story and while she does tell fart jokes and talks about her vagina a lot, I don’t think she is immature. [Laughs]. I think she is very articulate and insightful with what we all do with our butt holes and our vaginas.
The fact that she tells all the women in her life what’s going on and asks her friend Nelly about the procedure, that shows she is not an immature person. She somebody preparing for something she is not sure what is going to be like. I think somebody who is an adolescent would be too fearful to do that. What we wanted to show was somebody who was fearful in other ways. She gets dumped in the beginning of the movie and it really shatters her security and her self-esteem. She starts out pretty meek, on and off stage. On stage she has a little more strength but she doesn’t know how to control it. Off stage she just thinks everything is happening to her and she is playing a victim a lot of the time in her life. I don’t think she gets to the point of being proactive in her own life until the end of the film. You are left on the couch feeling a sense that Donna has accomplished that.
Jenny: The point of the movie is not to show “then” and “now,” “black” and “white,” “perfect” or “demented.” It’s a process and that is what is interesting. Is about the complexity of the process.
On Donna and her mother’s relationship
Gillian: Dona had fear that her mom was going to kill her or that her mother would judge her harshly and be disappointed. This is a moment in their lives that changes things forever. They are no longer mother and daughter, superior and inferior. They become true connected women. I think the mom is not going to make Excel spreadsheets for her daughter anymore. She is going to love and trust her daughter, and always be supported and take care of her maternally, but she will also let her be an adult.
On Donna’s Painful Performance On Stage
Gillian: We were just trying to show the audience how much pain Dona was in.
Jenny: She is really up there punching herself in the face, verbally. To me is really funny, is one of the funniest scenes. I love all of it, but I would not want to be sitting in the audience, it would be very uncomfortable.
On Jake Lacy
Gillian: We made him in a lab. [Laughs]. No, we sent him the script and said “Would you please be Max?” He saw that Jenny Slate was attached and he really fell in love with Max the same way we wanted audiences to. He really helped shape him to be supportive, funny, and charming, but also not a doormat.
Jenny: He is very funny, if he would have been wimpy or like a man holding my purse that wouldn’t have been attractive to me. We wanted him to be somebody who had his own complexity.
Gillian: He and Jenny can really tell jokes to each other. He is supportive but he is also really witty. He can take the comedy hits but give them too.
Jenny: That’s what formed a connection, wanting to make each other laugh.
Being so different from each other, but connecting through humor.