Stand-up but Don’t Deliver

The setup of “Obvious Child” may remind you a bit of “Seinfeld” — a Jewish New York comedian turns the mundane into standup material. In this case, however, the comic is a young Brooklyn woman named Donna Stern as played by relative newcomer Jenny Slate. Donna’s material about abortion isn’t exactly gold though it’s an improvement over her usual set of unfunny and icky bodily function jokes. [The best joke in the entire film is actually delivered by another comic: how his dad reminds him of both Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.] She’s already lost one boyfriend due to her onstage over-sharing, her job at the anti-imperialist, non-repressive non-colonialist bookstore is about to end and her academic mom’s idea of advice comes in the form of a spreadsheet. Attention from a very nice though not-her-type straight arrow turns into a one-night stand that leads to her unplanned pregnancy.

The main business of the film—which sometimes threatens to be more cute than funny but ultimately won me over—is about Donna’s eventual thaw to the goy (a winning performance by “The Office”‘s Jake Lacy). A rom-com whose love story takes off post-abortion probably won’t make it to many pro-lifer Netflix queues but others will appreciate the delicate balance of humor and emotion in this hugely likable film. It doesn’t hurt that the film sports a great ensemble cast including Richard Kind and Polly Draper as Donna’s divorced parents, David Cross as a creepy comedy club owner, and Gaby Hoffman as her roomie. Confidently directed by Gillian Robespierre, this first feature premiered at Sundance earlier this year and is the centerpiece of the upcoming New Director’s/New Films festival at Lincoln Center. While it’s hard to see much of a future for Donna Stern, I predict big things for Slate and Robespierre. Read more

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2014 at Lincoln Center

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The 29th edition of “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema”, a co-presentation of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance Films, begins early next month. 24 films —all of them released in France the past year— will be shown, most of them with the director on hand at selected screenings. The genre of choice this year is definitely domestic drama–12 of them can be tagged as such. The remaining films include five political dramas, two romantic comedies, two thrillers, two comedies and one documentary. And in contrast to most world cinemas these days, almost half of the films are directed by women! Here’s my pick of ten must-sees. The festival begins March 6 and ends March 16. Tickets are available at filmlinc.com.

onmywayThe great Catherine Deneuve plays Bettie, an aging former beauty queen spurned by her lover for a younger woman in Emmanuelle Bercot’s “On My Way.” This and other things prompt her to take a spontaneous road trip. Her adventures are interrupted by her estranged daughter (played by French pop musician Camille) who asks her to drive Bettie’s grandson to a family reunion. Bettie is forced to revisit her past, with mixed results. Deneuve was nominated for a 2014 Best Actress César Award for her performance.

Veteran director Bertrand Tavernier’s “The French Minister” is adapted from co-screenwriter Antonin Baudry’s graphic novels about working in the Foreign Ministry. A young man learns the ropes of diplomacy when he is hired as the new speechwriter for the Minister of Foreign Affairs (played by Tavernier regular Theirry Lhermitte). Julie Gayet, who plays a policy advisor, has recently been paired with French president François Hollande in the tabloids. Research? Read more