BABES – Review by Rachel West

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There’s the family you’re born into and your chosen family, made up of the friends you hold near and dear. In director Pamela Adlon’s Babes, female friendship and the support that comes from your chosen family is front and centre in her surprisingly sweet and touching directorial debut. Co-written by and starring Broad City alum Ilana Glazer and Survival of The Thickest’s Michelle Buteau, Babes delivers more than one might expect from an unplanned pregnancy comedy.

Eden (Glazer) is a single woman living in New York City whose decades-long friendship with BFF Dawn (Buteau) has withstood the test of time despite the women being in very different places in their lives and on very different paths to motherhood.

Dawn is a dentist who lives on the Upper West Side with her husband (Hasan Minhaj) and their young son. With the imminent birth of their second child underway before the credits even roll, Babes sets the tone by delivering on the grossness of the birthing process. By her side throughout the birth, Eden is a yoga instructor whose romantic life could be described as chaotic. After having a meet-cute with the handsome Claude (Stephan James) on the subway, the results are an unplanned pregnancy. When she decides to keep the baby and forge forth as a single mom with her bestie by her side, the true dynamics of adult friendships reveals itself to Eden.

Glazer co-wrote the script with Josh Rabinowitz in 2021, the year she became a mother herself and also co-wrote and starred in a very different kind of pregnancy movie, the horror False Positive. With babies on the brain, Glazer’s motherhood journey in Babes feels like an extension of her Broad City character whose free-wheeling chaos dictates her life. Though Glazer is adept at playing this type of woman, it doesn’t feel like a new direction for her, allowing Buteau to edge her way into the spotlight as Dawn.

Fresh, real, and funny, Buteau’s presence is a charming one as Dawn navigates upper-middle class life with a house, husband, and kids. A successful career woman, Dawn’s frustrations resonate as she’s called on to be the caregiver both at home and with Eden. There is so much to explore within her story that combined with Buteau’s screen presence and “main character energy”, one almost wishes she was the focus of Babes. But, however great these women are separately, they’re even better together.

Quick witted, the comedians volley rapid fire jokes at one another while showcasing the type of intimate friendship where you can ask your bestie to bend over to sneak a peek at her dilated vagina. Scenes involving the icky, wet, and gross side of pregnancy and birth feel more like improv than a scripted comedy, bringing real life and flair to the film’s early scenes. But the film isn’t just about pregnancy and birth, giving lots of laughs to those who haven’t experienced motherhood or choose to be child-free. With Glazer and Buteau, Babes is relatable to anyone who has maneuvered the ups and down from childhood friendships to adult ones.

Perhaps the one weakness in Babes is that it doesn’t let the moments of friction between Eden and Dawn sit for long enough. Their problems are solved too quickly so we can move on to more opportunity for pregnancy jokes. There is much more that could be explored when it comes to the emotional intricacies of these women’s lives. Dawn’s pressures at work and home coupled with Eden’s distant relationship with her agoraphobic dad (Oliver Platt) could have used breathing space in the quickly-paced story.

It’s a strong directorial debut for Adlon, who has proved she can expertly navigate motherhood in “Better Things”. Under her direction, she makes NYC’s grimy public transit system seem like a charmingly whimsical place to meet a partner and the ensuing romantic entanglement the stuff of fantasy.

Those expecting a raunchy maternal comedy will get their fair share of laughs, but beyond the amniotic fluids, there’s a surprisingly sweet and heartfelt story here. While it may not stick the landing on the big emotional moments and dramatic build-up, Babes nevertheless delivers a winning formula that you’ll want to see with your bestie.

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Rachel West

Based in Toronto, Rachel is a Senior Film Critic at ThatShelf.com. She has interviewed everyone from Michael Fassbender to Miss Piggy and has reported live from TIFF, the SAG Awards, Comic-Con, and the Golden Globes, among other events, and has contributed film writing and content to outlets including ET Canada, Telefilm, Global News, The National Post, Cineplex Magazine, and Letterboxd, among others. She is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter: @rachel_is_here