It’s interesting that I should come off a new Woody Allen film with this one up next in the cannon. The reason why I say this is because Allen is considered the first writer/director in American cinema who really started writing strong female characters in film with Diane Keaton acting as his muse. Which is one of the many things I admire about him. If you think about the entertainment industry its always been a predominately male driven one. If you want proof of this look no further than even to this day where there are just a handful of well known women directors. That and when most people talk about or list off who their favorite “actor” is (yes people women are considered actors too) they usually list off a group of men. That’s why I always become interested when I see a movie come along that boasts a mostly female cast (1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” being one of the all time greats). Or in the case of this film, focuses primarily on the trials and tribulations of one woman. Being in that I am a member of the opposite sex, I find it’s important to seek out films that identify with the experience of being a woman. So often in film women are put on screen only to be objectified (see Megan Fox) and reduced to mere eye candy. Which I think is really rather unfortunate. When I first heard about this film, like with most films, it was by seeing a trailer for it before another. I didn’t really recognize anyone in it other than Gaby Hoffman, who I had recently seen and absolutely loved in last year’s “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus”. That and it looked like it had the potential to be really funny. What sealed the deal for me was the fact that it not only looked like a lighthearted comedy, but one with true spirit; and most importantly, one that focused on a strong central female character. Having not gotten the chance to see it in theaters I put a high priority on seeing it as soon as it came out on DVD.
The film first introduces us to Donna (played by Jenny Slate), a young woman in her late twenties who moonlights as a comic in Brooklyn while she works at her day job at a local bookstore. After a performance one night she is approached by her boyfriend who explains that he’s been cheating on her which completely overwhelms and devastates her. To top if off the following morning at her day job her boss tells her that he’s closing shop. So in a span of 24 hours she gets dumped and her only steady source of income is gone. Donna seeks solace in her best friend (played by Hoffman), her supportive and understanding father, as well as her not so supportive, higher standard, but equally as loving mother. She appears to be going through some mid quarter life crisis and falls into self deprecation. Then on one drunken and off performance night out she meets Max, a guy who while although isn’t really her type, conveniently shows up at a time when she’s most vulnerable. She winds up going home with him (in a dance party sequence that’s pure gold) and has a one night stand, which at that point the central plot of the story begins as she becomes faced with one of life’s most difficult decisions.
This is a wonderful film that I had really good time with. It left me feeling similarly to how I felt after 2012’s brilliant film by Noah Baumbach – “Frances Ha” which also focused on another strong female central character played by the superb Greta Gerwig. Like Gerwig, Jenny Slate is mesmerizing in her role here, and also like Gerwig in that film, plays the character with an authenticity that really comes through in her performance. I also thought it was raw, heartfelt, and tenderly funny, without feeling melodramatic or too full of sentiment. Donna is equally as funny in both her on and off stage personas. The conversations she has with her friends and family as well as her audience produces some genuine laughs about her ruminations on life. Also, the relationship that unfolds with the unassuming Max feels real in a way that is often times hard to capture in similar type relationships I’ve seen depicted in other movies of its kind. There’s also a great bit part featuring David Cross which I was surprised by but I thought fit perfectly in the context of the film. My only couple of minor criticisms is that there’s a coincidence that turns up involving Max that to me seemed a bit far fetched. Very similar to how I felt about the coincidence involving both Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in last year’s “Enough Said”. Also, I felt like the story could have been expanded on a little, which felt a bit short and breezy as it zipped by at a brisk 80 minutes. But despite those two pretty minor critiques, this is a film bursting with energy and real true human feeling and emotion. That and as mentioned above, and what I think deserves to be noted twice, it features a bravura performance by the little known Slate who I can potentially see gaining some awards attention at the year’s end by some of the smaller indie-friendly critic’s circles. This is a smart, honest, feel good film which is one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen all year. I’ve already added it on my list of Honorable Mentions that should survive and wind up on my end of the year list. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out. I can assure you that it won’t disappoint.