Monday, April 15, 2024

“BABES”

THE STORY – Pregnant from a one-night stand, Eden leans on her best friend and mother of two, Dawn, to guide her through gestation and beyond.

THE CAST – Ilana Glazer, Michelle Buteau, John Carroll Lynch & Hasan Minhaj

THE TEAM – Pamela Adlon (Director), Ilana Glazer & Josh Rabinowitz (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 109 Minutes


Eden (Ilana Glazer) and Dawn (Michelle Buteau) have been best friends forever. Even though Dawn has moved from their native Astoria, Queens, to the evil Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband (Hasan Minhaj) and young son, she and Eden still get together regularly. After Dawn gives birth to her second child on Thanksgiving, Eden makes a connection with a handsome, sweet man on the subway, brings him home, and sleeps with him. When she unexpectedly gets pregnant and learns that the man died, Eden decides to have the baby with Dawn helping her. However, Dawn is having her own problems. Will their friendship be able to survive motherhood?

“Babes” marks the first feature film from Pamela Adlon, the stand-up comic behind the acclaimed FX series “Better Things.” On that show, Adlon’s uniquely sardonic voice brought a new perspective on motherhood to the small screen, and now she’s doing it for the medium of film with the help of Glazer and her writing partner, Josh Rabinowitz. It’s a perfect fit, with Adlon grounding Glazer and Rabinowitz’s more ridiculous gags with a sense of world-weary gravitas. Adlon and Glazer have similar sensibilities as storytellers, but they have very different comic voices, which brings out the best in the material.

Glazer is an electric performer, one who can easily go so big that no screen can contain her puckish energy. Adlon has smartly surrounded her with a group of solid performers capable of keeping both feet on the ground. Glazer and Buteau have incredible chemistry, which allows them to have complete conversations using only one word in two scenes, and they’re not only comprehensible, but they’re also side-splittingly funny. Glazer has never felt more real onscreen than in this film, mainly due to Buteau’s counterbalancing act. Buteau, meanwhile, gains dramatic heft from how much she shows the audience feelings that Eden either misses or ignores. She also helps soften Minhaj’s spikier edges to create a believably good but imperfect marriage between two good but imperfect people. In smaller roles, Stephan James and Oliver Platt make big impressions by subtly playing against their stock characters: James is tender and solid but not overly dreamy as Eden’s baby daddy, and Platt underplays the anxiety of Eden’s father to heartbreaking effect.

As much as Adlon and the performers keep the film grounded, it should go without saying that “Babes” is incredibly funny. The opening sequence, in which Eden and Dawn go about their planned day even though Dawn is in labor, is a masterpiece of comic escalation, and Buteau’s fearless physical performance will have mothers of all ages wincing in recognition. All the jokes about parenthood and pregnancy have the sting of truth to them, as one would expect from the comedy club-trained creative team. Unfortunately, the structure of the film can leave it feeling a bit like a series of sketch comedy bits: a bit about lugging groceries upstairs while in your third trimester, another about the horror of breast pumps, one about how even luxury resorts don’t consider a woman’s pregnancy, etc. Because of this, every bit is ferociously funny, but “Babes” doesn’t feel like a narrative feature for long stretches. It’s a small price to pay for something as funny as this, but one can’t help but want a bit more connective material to connect these bits more smoothly.

What ends up saving the film is its unique point of view. Motherhood has never looked as unglamorous or painfully funny onscreen as it does here, with Glazer and Buteau throwing themselves into the ugliest corners of womanhood they can. This unvarnished look at what women are told is the most beautiful thing they will ever do feels like a necessary corrective to decades of sanitized storytelling on the subject. While the men in the audience will doubtlessly be horrified by much of what they see onscreen, they’ll also laugh their butts off. “Babes” is made for the women in the audience, though, and while the relatably cringe-inducing jokes will also make them laugh their butts off, it’s the portrayal of the friendship between Eden and Dawn that will stick with them the most, elevating “Babes” from a mere good time at the movies to a potential new favorite.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A hilarious, unvarnished view of pregnancy and friendship that covers new ground.

THE BAD - It sometimes feels a bit too much like a series of comedy sketches.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Original Screenplay

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A hilarious, unvarnished view of pregnancy and friendship that covers new ground.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>It sometimes feels a bit too much like a series of comedy sketches.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-original-screenplay/">Best Original Screenplay</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"BABES"