Riotous Babes: Buddy Pregnancy Comedy Features Pair of Sharp, Funny Stars

Babes expertly balances crowd-pleasing hijinks and personal truths to deliver big laughs and heart in equal measure. It’s a treat. 

7 mins read

Watching Pamela Adlon’s razor-sharp comedy Babes recently with a packed theatrical audience signaled an unmistakable return to that collective movie audience mojo—enjoying a joke and enjoying that others are enjoying it too—which these days is hard to come by in a challenging moment of spottily attended movie houses. But it got me thinking: would the film still hit the mark if I were the only one in the theater? The answer: absolutely, given that Babes expertly balances crowd-pleasing hijinks and personal truths to deliver big laughs and heart in equal measure. It’s a treat. 

Adlon, the former actress (her debut was 1982’s Grease 2) turned series helmer (Better Things), has struck big screen comedy gold with two of the funniest women the movies have encountered in years—sardonic writer-producer-star Ilana Glazer (Broad City) and no BS comedienne and actress Michelle Buteau (First Wives Club). In Babes, the powerhouse pair of comediennes play lifelong besties whose rock-solid friendship is hilariously upended by a birth (a pre-credit sequence that must seen to be believed), an unexpected pregnancy and the wild ride of adulting. The result? A film that’s fast, raunchy, and so laugh-out-loud funny it might just bring you to tears. Yet, amidst the breakneck zaniness, it sneakily manages to hit deeply human notes.

In a New York story reminiscent of vintage Woody Allen in its view of a New York spiked with cynical wit, sidewalk pizzaz and piqued with observant one-liners, Babes was written by Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz (also a Broad City alum) and directed by Adlon with a firm hand on every single amusing exchange, punch line and interaction; she well knows when her film is laugh-out-loud funny as well as when it’s very serious.

The film’s clever title doesn’t so much apply to its heroines (though they’d heartily concur) but to their actual babies, and as the film opens single Astoria yoga instructor Eden (Glazer) hilariously prioritizes getting best friend and (in labor) married dentist Dawn (Bureau) through their annual holiday movie-luncheon date en route to the delivery room, and trust me—in the history of movies about childbirth, you’ve never seen it done quite like this. This sequence sets the film’s tone, which is three jokes a minute and a few Hail Marys that they all land (they do!) in a near-perfect combo of rapid fire sass and—egads!—gross out mommy body function comedy. 

After that frantic delivery room opener, Eden lucks into a chance subway encounter with a handsome stranger (Stephan James) in a meet-cute that becomes a romantic overnight. When her paramour disappears, incredulous and unexpectedly pregnant Eden is left at a crossroads, deciding to brave single motherhood. What follows is comedy genius in a movie that doesn’t shy away from the realities of first-time pregnancy, including all of the body, hormonal and emotional swings, as well as the ups and downs in the central friendship.

Eden, for her part, has never been ready for motherhood; she’s the type of downtown hipster single chic who would never just fall pregnant, until she does. Dawn, on the other hand, is built for marriage and family and a straight-laced, Upper West Side professional life (colleague Sandra Bernhard turns up with a joke about Invisalign). Just when we think that Dawn will lend a gently guiding hand to fledgling mom Eden, the friendship drifts, leaving Eden alone to sort out her dilemma, and the script mines great laughs from her solitary predicament, including a supporting turn from John Carroll Lynch as a balding, too candid obstetrician, getting maximum combover gag mileage. 

As Eden’s pregnancy progresses, the stakes get raised for Dawn as well, her career and marriage to Marty (Hasan Minhaj) and the punishing demands of two children diverging from Eden’s bohemian lifestyle as the trimesters arrive fast and furious. The movie doesn’t pull punches in considering how life intervenes on support systems, the simpatico pair left to sort out individual issues without the benefit of best buddy ship. Yet funny as it is, Babes isn’t all laughs, deepening when the gal pals embark on a “babymoon” together, laying bare some poignant truths about the limits of friendship into adulthood. Oliver Platt also shows up in a brief but impactful turn as Eden’s estranged dad. 

There’s a rule in improv called “Yes, and…” which means always agree with your partner and then build on that foundation. While Babes isn’t an improv show, Glazer and Buteau take this spontaneity principle to dizzying heights, playing off each other with generosity and genuine chemistry. Glazer, as sharp as they come, crafts a character so endearingly eccentric yet utterly relatable. She hooks us with laughter early on and then reveals genuine heart, delivering one of the year’s standout performances. Both actresses elevate what could have been mere slapstick into something universal and insightful, seamlessly shifting from high comedy to introspection. 

While the film has riotous gags—including a scene with a babysitter and The Omen that made me laugh louder than I have in a film in some time, and another involving a mushroom trip that is the stuff of cult comedy—it is Glazer’s final moment that concludes Babes on a note of such sweet exhilaration that you may, as I did, leave with a lump in your throat.

A terrific, human comedy.

3 1/2 stars

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