Babes Review: Pamela Adlon’s Gut-Busting Tribute to Pregnancy and Motherhood

Adlon’s film spins the corporeal realities of pregnancy into heartfelt comic gold.

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Babes
Photo: Neon

By turns tender and raucous, Pamela Adlon’s feature-length directorial debut, Babes, spins the uneasy, unwelcome, weirdly cool corporeal realities of pregnancy into heartfelt comic gold. The film often feels like a kindred spirit or companion piece to Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child, with star and co-writer Illana Glazer stepping into the Jenny Slate role as a woman whose arrested development brushes up against the realities of potential motherhood.

Babes stars Glazer as Eden, a yoga instructor who’s Thanksgiving plans are waylaid when her bestie, Dawn (Michelle Buteau), goes into labor with her second child. After a chance subway encounter and one-night stand with a charming actor (Stephan James), Eden finds herself pregnant. Woefully unprepared and estranged from her sole remaining parent (Oliver Platt), Eden leans on Dawn and her husband, Marty (Hasan Minhaj), to help her through the pregnancy and transition into single motherhood. But dealing with the pressures of her own home life and the added stress of Eden’s immaturity starts to weigh on Dawn, causing cracks that threaten to shatter the friendship they built together since childhood.

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Throughout the film, Glazer and Buteau’s energy explodes all over the frame. Adlon leaves ample space for the actors to lean into improvisation without letting the film lose the momentum and snap of the script. Improvisational comedy lives and dies in the editing room, and Babes finely threads the needle between giving the performances room to breathe while also finding a sharp comic through line or emotional hook for each and every scene.

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The film also bring a keen and casually demystifying observational eye to the emotional and often ridiculous life-altering process of becoming a parent. There’s a feeling of camaraderie to this project—a sense of the filmmakers working in tandem to best give voice to the messy process of giving life with a hard-earned wisdom that balances out all the squirting nipples and shit jokes. It seems that every other year we get a movie to remind us that “women can be crass too,” but rarely has crude humor been delivered with this much specificity or genuine emotional insight into what it means to be a woman moving between life’s many phases.

The beating pulse of Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz’s script is the very idea of family and how tough it can be for single people as their friends get married and start their own. Glazer’s Eden is a needy mooch who can’t help but insert herself into the most private parts of her best friend’s marriage, and Buteau is more grounded (but no less hilarious) as a woman wondering if the life she’s built with her two kids and devoted husband is what she really wanted after all.

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A foul-mouthed comedy about lifelong friends finding their way through their own growing pains and back to each other, Babes rears its rawly hilarious observational elements about the pains and joys of new motherhood on a genuine helping of heart. In the end, the tension between our two main characters leads to a tense breakup and 11th-hour reunion that hits with the gooey-eyed emotional weight of a romantic comedy (complete with grand gestures and prom dresses) and poignantly underlines the film’s message that family, like life, is what you make it.

Score: 
 Cast: Ilana Glazer, Michelle Buteau, John Carroll Lynch, Hasan Minhaj, Oliver Platt, Stephan James  Director: Pamela Adlon  Screenwriter: Ilana Glazer, Josh Rabinowitz  Distributor: Neon  Running Time: 104 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2024

Rocco T. Thompson

Rocco is a freelance writer on film, and an Associate Producer for CreatorVC’s In Search of Darkness series.

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