Mini Reviews: Obvious Child, After Tiller, and Nebraska

obvious child after tiller nebraska

I recently watched some more movies from the comfort of her bed. Thank god for Netflix and the internet.

Up today: Obvious Child, After Tiller, and Nebraska

Quick Take: All three of these films are more than worth the 90-120 minutes that it takes to watch them. Nebraska—which is both comedic and quietly (but powerfully) emotional—is my favorite of the bunch, but they really are all quality films. Jenny Slate’s performance in Obvious Child is surprisingly fantastic, and After Tiller‘s multi-faceted and respectful treatment of its subject matter is moving, thought-provoking, and incredibly important. 

Obvious Child (2014)
Directed by Gillian Robespierre
Watched on Jan 11

I tend to stay as far from romantic comedies as I can, but Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child is a refreshingly honest, down-to-earth, and non-sexist instantiation of the genre that really does deserve to be seen.

Though pegged by many (including myself above) as a “romantic comedy,” Obvious Child is pretty light on romance and instead focuses on its main character Donna (Jenny Slate), her reactions to various situations, and the way she interacts with the other characters around her. The film’s one real flaw may be the lack of development that is afforded to characters who aren’t Donna. Of course, while none of the film’s supporting cast offer performances that are particularly noteworthy, this isn’t their story either.

Slate carries this film with grace and remarkable skill. As a young stand-up comedian who is struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, is going through a break up, and still has a good amount of growing up to do, Slate offers an effortlessly complex and incredibly watchable performance that runs the gamut from laugh-out-loud hilarious to genuinely moving. In addition to a fine performance by Slate, Obvious Child also boasts a strong screenplay that does a fantastic job of handling a sticky subject (unplanned pregnancy and abortion) with a maturity, an intelligence, and an honest sense of humor that are each equally important to the film’s success.
Watch Obvious Child now.

After Tiller (2013)
Directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson
Watched on Jan 12

I was looking back at the list of movies I watched in 2014 recently, and I noticed that I didn’t watch any documentaries last year. Opps. I’m too fragile for them sorry. Sooooo, I’m going to try to watch them with some regularity this year to make up for it. Get stoked!

Anyway, After Tiller. Directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, this emotionally moving, thought-provoking, and incredibly level-headed documentary follows the four doctors who (as of the time the film was made) were the only ones in the U.S. performing third-trimester abortions. All four of the doctors knew Dr. Tiller, and tough he was assassinated for doing the same work that they do now, these four have not stopped. Their lives are not easy nor are their jobs, but they carry on just the same. They are dedicated to fighting what they see as a worthwhile fight. And while talks about abortion tend to be filled with yelling and extremism, After Tiller provides these doctors with a refreshingly quiet stage on which to grieve the death of their colleague, to explain why they do what they do, and to tell their stories (both as medical professionals and as common human beings).

Despite its extremely controversial subject matter, After Tiller is largely a quiet and an intimate film. While politics certainly play a role in the film (no one is likely to leave After Tiller doubting that the filmmakers are feminists who side with the doctors), it is much more personal than it is sensational and it never makes the mistake of over simplifying the issues at hand. The film is hard to watch at times (I found it both infuriating and devastatingly sad), but it’s compelling, relevant, and incredibly well done just the same.

Nebraska (2013)
Directed by Alexander Payne
Watched on Jan 13
You know what, I have no idea why I include the dates I watch films in my “Mini Review” posts, but whatever Imma keep doing it.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I grew up in and currently live in Oklahoma and have a number of relatives who are a great deal like some of the people in Nebraska (my mom even has the same ivy coffee cups that appear in one scene), but I almost couldn’t help but find this movie endearing.

Nebraska is beautifully shot, well written, and features an wonderful performance from Bruce Dern. The fact the this film is in black and white lends a quiet dignity and an additional beauty to its shots of the stark American countryside. The black and white images also call attention to the many details of the many elderly faces that the film contains. The film is also as funny as it is sad and is deeply concerned with the personal. The person at the heart of it all is Woody, who is masterfully portrayed by Bruce Dern. Woody is a grumpy and callous alcoholic. He is cynical but he is also frightened, plagued by regret, and can be both pathetically and laughably naive. He’s not necessarily likable, but he is lovable in his way. Above all, Woody is a human. He is an aging man with a laundry list of flaws. Woody may not be a hero, but thanks largely to the respect and nuance with which Dern brings him to life, he’s no caricature, stereotype, or mere placeholder either.

My few complaints about the films are as follows: Woody’s sons, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) are a touch too flat and underdeveloped and are a bit too opaque to be anywhere near as memorable as Woody himself. Also, while Woody’s wife Kate (June Squibb) does have a few entertaining lines, she is not written with quite enough depth for my taste.

Nebraska is a quirky, quiet, and bleakly comic little film with a rather limited scope (on paper at least). At the same time, there is also an honesty and an emotional complexity to the whole thing that renders it exceptionally moving (there were legit tears all over my face, but maybe I’m just a big baby) and hard-to-forget. I know that some have accused Payne of harboring a touch too much disdain the people that this film portrays, but I didn’t get that at all. As far as I can see, Payne and Nebraska can’t help but see something admirable in these people; yes, they have their flaws are may not understand the world as well as some may like, but the same could be said of just about anyone. Which is simply to say that, if Nebraska pokes fun at Woody and the other Midwesterners in the film that it does so good-naturedly.
Get Nebraska on DVD.

Until Next Time
Thanks so much for stopping by. If you haven’t, I’d greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to follow this blog. Also, if you ever find yourself in the need of an abstract print, a phone case, or a tote bag (i kno, i kno, sorry), please check out my little society 6 shop.

Oh, and the Oscar noms came out several says ago, and now I’m mad. In fact, I probably won’t make an Oscar’s-related post now, because I’m just so tired of the whole thing already. I did, however, manage to post my top 10 films of 2014. So, yay for that.

2 thoughts on “Mini Reviews: Obvious Child, After Tiller, and Nebraska

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