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​Adlon Looks for Pregnant Laughs in Feature Directorial Debut ‘Babes’

Cinema | June 1st, 2024

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

Ilana Glazer is the co-writer and co-star of director Pamela Adlon’s comedy “Babes,” an appealing, if familiar, buddy movie that builds around the ups and downs of an unexpected pregnancy. The busy Glazer, best known for “Broad City,” returns to the general thematic territory she explored in the 2021 horror film “False Positive” (for which she also served as performer and co-screenwriter), trading the dread – if not the anxiety – for laughs. Sticking to the common pegs of the “growing up is hard” track of the friendship roller coaster, “Babes” pairs Glazer with Michelle Buteau, whose own comic chops match those of her screen partner.

Adlon’s movie is an entertaining and occasionally insightful journey likely to resonate most with viewers who have been pregnant (although good old gross-out humor, truly universal, transcends age, class, and gender). The highly specific gags revolving around all manner of bodily functions and exaggerated emotions feel like the logical progression of contemporary hallmarks like “Bridesmaids,” which may not be the first of its kind, but certainly received a lot of attention for moving the needle. See also Bilge Ebiri’s 2011 “Vulture” round-up for a longer list and a reminder that Lucille Ball “turned her own pregnancy into a season-long plot point at a time when you couldn’t actually say ‘pregnant’ on TV.”

Glazer’s Eden and Buteau’s Dawn have been inseparable since childhood, but the seed of what is frequently called the “plot-mandated friendship failure” sprouts from what the less financially successful Eden sees as a genuine threat to her partnership with Dawn. The latter is a dentist with a husband (Hasan Minhaj) and two kids of her own. When Eden discovers that it is most certainly possible to become pregnant while menstruating, she chooses motherhood. And while there is nothing wrong with the shocking reason given for the disappearance of one-night-stand sperm provider Claude (Stephan James), it’s a little too convenient.

The stand-up, improv, and television bona fides of the film’s creative core expose assets as well as liabilities. “Babes” is episodic and small-screen friendly to the extent that, like Leah McKendrick’s “Scrambled,” it could occasionally be mistaken for what we would expect to binge as a season or partial season of a series. The jokes are plentiful, however, and Glazer and her writing collaborator Josh Rabinowitz make sure that even the supporting cast members get to share the wealth – John Carroll Lynch as Eden’s doctor and identical twin brothers Kenny and Keith Lucas as improbable STI-clinicians run off with their scenes.

Adlon does a credible job illustrating the multitude of ways in which Eden walks very close to the edge of taking her bestie for granted. Generic convention mandates that the BFFs will suffer at least a couple of small to medium disagreements before a significant falling-out threatens the union. In “Babes,” an extended “babymoon” getaway (with structural echoes of the Vegas hijinks in “Knocked Up”) exacerbates some of the tension in the relationship, but the eventual change of heart and joyful reconciliation buoy the fantasy that love will keep us together.     

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