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Babes Film Review: Funny But Underwhelming

Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer look worried in the pink poster of the film Babes

Babes, Ilana Glazer’s new buddy comedy, is a good enough time on the surface, but fails to pack the meaningful punch it thinks it does.

Director: Pamela Adlon
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 104′
US Release: May 17, 2024
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in theaters

The bonds formed in friendships between women illustrate a very special type of love. It’s the kind of love that sustains you in your youth and revives your zest for life as you mature. It is able to snap you out of any mood and return you to your truest sense of self. Babes, Ilana Glazer’s new comedy, aims to study the impact and importance of women’s friendships as well as the way these relationships mature as we age. 

Babes tells the story of two childhood best friends, Eden (Ilana Glazer, of False Positive) and Dawn (Michelle Buteau). When we meet the two women, Dawn is in the early stages of giving birth to her second child. She has just moved from Astoria, Queens to the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband to a brownstone that promises to be a better environment to raise her family. Eden’s life couldn’t be any more different. She is a yoga teacher, running a studio out of her fourth-floor walk-up in Astoria. To put it plainly, Eden is a hot mess. When Eden finds out she has gotten pregnant from a one-night stand, she decides to have the baby and that motherhood will be the thing to sort her life out. While skeptical about the decision, Dawn offers her unwavering support to her best friend as she tries to navigate her new life as a working mother of two. 

While the film aims to be a hilarious and thoughtful look at the inner workings of female friendship, its humor often relies on crudity, and its introspective moments don’t quite land. Eden is meant to be the loveable, walking disaster to Dawn’s steady and measured motherly figure. However, Eden’s decisions just read as selfish and unthoughtful. Babes wants to play into this trope that Eden is a baby having a baby, even though she is a grown woman. Her emotional maturity and quite frankly sense of reality is extraordinarily stunted in a way that proves to be a huge burden on her friend who is really struggling to keep herself together. She is not an entirely hateable or unfunny character, but it’s hard to find her as endearing as the film wants her to come off when she’s acting so recklessly towards her best friend who is not doing well. 

Eden’s lack of understanding towards all the strenuous aspects of motherhood is comically juvenile, but at a certain point, you just want to shake her to tell her to get a grip on her situation. Ultimately, the way Eden is written makes it clear that she is the main character which relegates Dawn to a supporting role even though she deserves just as much attention within the story. It’s a bizarre approach, considering the film is supposed to be about the two of them and the importance of their friendships in each other’s lives no matter how their paths in life may be. Dawn is often pushed to the side in favor of progressing Eden’s storylines. Additionally, when their friendship gets put to the test as their lives become increasingly chaotic, Eden simply becomes a bad friend. Dawn is very clearly dealing with some degree of postpartum depression and instead of sensing the change in someone she calls her sister, Eden tells Dawn she is boring and not fun to be around anymore. 

Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer are leaving a restaurant in a still from the film Babes
Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer in Babes (Neon)

Babes wants to be an introspective look at the way female friendships evolve through a very particular stage of life, when women start to make their own families and those families then become the most important people in their lives. However, that concept never seems to break through to Eden. Eden becoming pregnant should be her wake-up call to understanding Dawn and her priorities in life in a brand new way, but instead, Eden becomes even more confused as to why Dawn prioritizes her family over her. You want Eden to break out of this insane sense of co-dependency she has with Dawn, but the film just repeatedly rewards Eden’s horrible behavior while attempting to put the blame on Dawn for not being there for her friend.

Michelle Buteau is this movie’s shining light. She is so effortlessly good as Dawn, perfectly finding the way to balance humor and sincerity while embodying a character that is all too real to mothers who may watch the film. Dawn, as opposed to Eden, deals with parenting with this aggressive realness. There is no sugarcoating her experience; she is raw and unflinching in the way she tries to navigate life with a newborn, her eldest child regressing for attention, a career she is passionate about but feels guilty for pursuing and a best friend who is adding even more to her plate by not understanding motherhood isn’t something to be taken lightly.

In the movie’s most touching monologue, Dawn says that she feels like she has it all but nothing at all at the same time. She talks about motherhood as a gift but acknowledges the side of this experience that isn’t spoken about that’s clouded by guilt and this feeling that nothing is ever enough. She is genuine in a way that allows audiences to understand why she is such an important person in Eden’s life. Unfortunately, even though her character has so much depth, she is not given the ending she deserves by the film’s writing, which appears to just favor Eden’s character above anything else. 

If you’re a fan of slap-stick comedy and jokes about crude humor centered around things that come out of the human body, maybe this film will land better for you than it did for me. It’s not that the movie is unfunny; it’s just hard to laugh out loud when the main character becomes a progressively worse person throughout, and treats her friend who is in a crisis like her problems don’t matter. The film never addresses Eden’s terrible behavior in a meaningful way and instead tries to leave audiences with this optimism about motherhood and adult friendships that feels entirely too forced. 

While Babes is not a bad film, it’s not a very good one either. Any element of realism that is created in it is shattered by its unyielding and unrealistic optimism. As the movie goes on, it lulls in terms of plot progression and seems to repeat the same conflict over and over again. Unfortunately, the film is too muddled with effortful sincerity to pack the punch it aspires to.

Babes will be released in US theaters on May 17, 2024.

Babes: Trailer (Neon)
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