Obvious Child (4/5):
There’s a point in our lives where acting like a child, or in the very least bathing in our naiveté, becomes passé. Simply put, our disastrous, rambunctious choices have a singular response: “you’re old enough to know better.” The “adulthood” benchmark is indiscriminate, often regulated by a culture’s rite of passages, or established legal age. In the case of Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), the center of writer/director Gillian Robespierre’s wonderful Obvious Child, maturity is an elusive beast, taunting her at nearly every corner. Donna is a middling comic who performs her stand-up routine in what can only be deemed as a dive bar. The topics she covers often revolve around flatulence and vagina residue, as she demolishes decorum with sharp punch lines. After receiving an unceremonious ouster from her romantic relationship, Donna thrusts herself into a one night stand with a nice, unpretentious man by the name of Max (Jake Lacy). Both believe their sexual rendezvous can evolve into something more significant, but Donna erases the possibility when she discovers Max’s sperm have hijacked her eggs. Suddenly, Donna, a woman driven by a bohemian life, is at life’s mercy.
Her journey is in many ways a coming of age tale, but the journey itself is more subtle. Robespierre, who adapted Obvious Child from a short she made with Slate back in 2009, doesn’t mold her story in the image of your typical romantic comedy or coming of age tale. Instead of hitting familiar beats, Robespierre lets her story drift forward with enough propulsion to keep us engaged. With many facets of Donna’s life crumbling, Robespierre deserves credit for not treating Donna like an enthused saint ready to conquer any problem beset before her. Rather, Robespierre exposes Donna’s tendencies to hide from her problems, often like a petulant child. This not only leads to a handful of tender moments, but wonderful laughs that don’t cut down Donna as a human being. Breathing life into Donna is Jenny Slate. Unless you watched Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation over the last few years, Slate is likely a relative unknown, but she gives one of the year’s best performances. Her engaging, funny, and all together endearing performance, transforms a somewhat intolerable character into a lovable human being. From Slate’s impressive performance to Robespierre’s handling of the film’s abortion plot thread, Obvious Child is one of the year’s most sincere films, promising a bright future from both its director and star.
Blue Ruin (4.5/5):
Revenge is a poisonous thought not predicated on rationality but an irrepressible rage we feel is justifiable, sometimes to violent lengths. Filmmakers have taken note, as we as filmgoers gravitate toward films that find a character delivering vengeful blows to their dark creator. The irony of it all is this: the end of one man’s vindictive tale is the beginning of another’s. Quentin Tarantino recognized this in Kill Bill Vol. 1 when the Bride grants Vernita Green’s daughter permission to seek retribution after she watches her mother’s murder. Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin fully realizes this idea of revenge begotten revenge. Provided with minimal information, we open up on a vagrant by the name of Dwight (Macon Blair), a man whose broken, emotionally wrought face hides behind a mangled beard. With nothing in his possession outside of a rusting blue car, this is clearly a man twisted by a dark history. Packing up his few belongings, Dwight steadfastly ventures forward, ready to extract blood from his decade long tormentor. Within the film’s first few moments, Dwight fulfills his ferocious hunger for redemption, only to find himself now in the crosshairs of his victim’s family.
It’s at this point that Blue Ruin becomes a different beast altogether, as it ruminates on themes most revenge films cut short with a cathartic climax and closing credits. Horror quickly strangles jubilation, making Dwight’s story all the more tragic. He simply can’t win. Embodying the anguish boiling within Dwight is the masterful Macon Blair. Blair, who practically delivers a silent performance, has a set of eyes that are depressingly vacant. They see nothing but a bleak resolution ahead. And when Blair is delivering dialog, he painfully whispers Dwight’s words as if any form of social interaction is as painful as razor blades to the tongue. He is a man broken beyond repair, generating a great deal of empathy from our end. Blair’s silent performance is an extension of Saulnier’s vision for the film. Saulnier isn’t concerned about persistent violence or monologue driven standoffs. Rather, he’s focused on documenting the inner monologue a man has with himself in the midst of chaos. These small, intimate moments give Blue Ruin a sense of lingering dread, often forcing us to regret the preceding violence along with Dwight. It’s a lonesome feeling, yet the darkness surrounding Blue Ruin provides us with one of the year’s most engrossing, thoughtful, and memorable cinematic experiences. And it all begins with one powerful thought: revenge has no conclusion.