For character actors, the wall between “Hey it’s that guy from that thing!” and actual public awareness is a tough one to scramble over. It has halted many a talented performer from reaching his or her true potential. Fortunately, one-time SNL cast member Jenny Slate might have just found her ticket to reaching true Hollywood recognition with her movie Obvious Child.
The film, which rocketed out of Sundance as a favorite of festival goers, follows the story of Donna Stern, a plucky, Brooklyn-based comedian whose deeply personal stage antics gives her comedy a certain relatability. Unfortunately for Donna, life comes crashing around her ears when she learns that she’s pregnant.
The aesthetic and mood of the trailer will feel familiar to the likes of Lena Dunam’s Girls and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (the exploration of twenty-something self-worth in New York), but Obvious Child looks to chart its own unique course. The trailer works wonders, and much of that credit goes to Slate, who is charming, weird, goofy, and just a little unsufferable: all the facets of the great indie dramedy lead, and the ones that will hopefully get her talents noticed.
This wouldn’t be a case of overnight success. Slate has definitely put in the legwork toward being a mega success in the comedy world. Her young career has been filled with great character work, including a long list of recurring television roles. She’s played the zany and self-obsessed Tammy on the animated Bob’s Burgers, the obnoxious and grating Mona-Lisa on Parks and Recreation, and a neurotic little shell in the short Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. She’s delighted fans across the TV viewing landscape, but she’s still very much a character actor. Nearly all of her roles have been kooky, unhinged, and self-absorbed caricatures of real people. Fun, but not exactly star-turning material. This role, however, looks to change all of that. Slate certainly wouldn’t be the first or last performer to break out of Sundance. The snowy Colorado film festival has launched the careers of plenty of actors. Jennifer Lawrence received Oscar recognition on the back of her heartbreaking performance in Winters Bone, and soon conquered Hollywood in the Hunger Games. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller both received huge boosts in career status after co-starring in The Spectacular Now as high school lovers. Her performance in Obvious Child looks like it lies in that same vein of star-boosting potential.
For one thing, the film is Donna’s story alone. Other characters are dotted around the trailer — a concerned mother, a doting father, a snarky best friend — but they all are in service of Slate’s character, who is clearly the star of the show. She’s in nearly every shot of the trailer. That’s a tall order for a actor who spent most of her career playing characters in sketches, or characters who were little more than one note gags. It also looks life a film with actual drama woven into its story. As entertaining as it is seeing Slate play characters like Tammy or Mona-Lisa, it’s nice to see the actor really stretch out her acting muscles for real, and live up to the potential we’ve been seeing for years. Hopefully everyone else gets a full view of that potential as well.