Three stars. Rated R, for profanity and sexual candor
By Derrick Bang
John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon collaborated on a 16mm short film initially called Planetfall while students at USC’s film school in the early 1970s; it was expanded for theatrical release in 1974, now titled Dark Star, and quickly became a cult classic. Carpenter went on to a lucrative career highlighted by Halloween and Escape from New York; O’Bannon made his bones as a screenwriter, notably with Alien and many other horror and sci-fi projects.
A few years earlier, in 1967, George Lucas made a 15-minute short titled THX 1138 4EB, also while a student at USC’s film school. It, too, was expanded to feature length with a slightly shorter title — THX 1138 — and was released commercially in 1971, now starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence, and became both a cult classic and Lucas’ first directorial credit. He went on to make American Graffiti and, well, a certain sci-fi epic that took place in a galaxy far, far away.
Obvious Child began life in 2009, as a 23-minute short film written by Anna Bean, Karen Maine and Gillian Robespierre, and directed by Robespierre. Encouraging reviews at various film festivals encouraged Robespierre and star Jenny Slate to re-make the film for feature release, with an expanded cast and running time. A Kickstarter campaign raised the funds to get it placed at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where indie distributor A24 picked it up and now has brought it to a theater near you.
Its occasional merits aside, however, I rather doubt Robespierre will go on to the sort of career enjoyed by Carpenter, O’Bannon and Lucas.
Slate, however, should get a pretty good bump. She’s been all over TV for the past five years, from Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, to House of Lies and Parks and Recreation. She capably handles a big-screen starring role here, establishing a warm and delectably snarky persona.
Moving forward, though, she needs better material.
The major problem is that Obvious Child still feels like a 23-minute film, albeit one that has been padded with a lot of extraneous “stuff” in order to beef it up into an 84-minute feature. Several sequences do little but fill time, to the detriment of the story being told, and at least one sidebar is completely pointless.
And since Robespierre now has taken the primary scripting credit for this longer version, she’s clearly the one to blame. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss Maine and Bean (although Maine and newcomer Elisabeth Holm do share a “story by” credit here).