SXSW 2024: BABES Hilariously Charts the Messiness of Maternity and Motherhood

Pamela Adlon’s debut feature is relentlessly funny, and driven by the powerhouse pairing of Ilana Glazer and Melissa Buteau

In our youth, the idea of being an adult is envious. The freedom, both personal and financial, to do what we want, when we want, is very appealing. But as we enter that phase we soon realize, growing up sucks. Responsibilities mount, priorities change, and friendships get tested, often ending as people diverge onto differing paths. Babes distills down the challenges of this heterochrony into a raucous comedy, about two besties Eden (Ilana Glazer) and Dawn (Michelle Buteau), who after 27 years of friendship, face their greatest test thanks to the one-two punch of their back to back pregnancies.

Both Eden and Dawn are strong, vocal, women with a penchant for theatricality and fun. But there are differences. Eden is a breezy but chaotic soul, operating a yoga studio out of her apartment in Astoria. Dawn is a successful dentist, living on the Upper West Side with her dutiful husband Marty (Hasan Minhaj) and toddler. The film opens with the pair fulfilling an annual tradition, taking in a movie on Thanksgiving, despite them now being separated by four train rides and leading rather different lives. The outing is short-lived as Dawn goes into labor. On her journey home from the hospital, Eden has a meet-cute with a man named Claude (a brief but utterly charming turn from Stephan James). Fate, and four shared train rides later, an instant connection emerges, that ends with him staying the night. For reasons not to be divulged here, Claude disappears from the scene and Eden eventually realizes that she is pregnant. Blissfully unaware of the physical and emotional journey ahead of her, Eden decides to embrace the pregnancy, with the support of Dawn, who is similarly unprepared. Not just for the stress this will bring, but also the truth that her second child will be easier to handle than the first.

Co-written by Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz, a former writer on Broad City, Babes does feel somewhat like a “what happened next?” sequel to that cult show. Irreverent, often surreal humor, fused to a smart social commentary. The film is also packed with crude language, whip-smart banter, pop culture references, visual gags, and running jokes, notably one involving about the hairline of their gynecologist (played to perfection by John Carroll Lynch). It’s relentlessly and raucously funny. It’s not just the comedic tone, but also in how the chaotic, consequence free lives of two young women might shift when responsibilities come to bear. These two women are close, we’re talking a level of intimacy that borders on the extremes, even going so far as to track each others locations and share updates on their daily bowel movements. It’s the kind of relationship that is built to last, so in testing it, it underscores exactly how impactful the process of pregnancy and raising a child is.

Babes really charts the ups and downs of pregnancy, and that goes beyond the hormones. The bodily secretions, mood changes, weight gain, difficulty breastfeeding, and not satisfied with exemplifying the body horrors of giving birth with one scene, instead you get two. Beyond the prenatal, the film covers the scope of what comes next to. Dawn is faced with a life juggling her job and home life, the trials of finding childcare, sibling jealousy, all on top of the needs of her ill-prepared friend. Unsurprisingly, she reaches her limit. Even though she self-admittedly has it all, from a career, to a lovely home, to a super supportive and hyper capable partner, it only amplifies the feelings of being a little adrift and alone. It all comes to a head by asking the question, what is family? With this duo’s friendship lasting longer than Dawn’s marriage and children’s ages combined, does it deserve equal priority? Which is where the film digs deeper into these ties, and how friendships, at least those that are destined to last, have to change.

Babes marks the directorial debut of Pamela Adlon’s (King of the Hill, Louie, as well as creating, starring, and directing in Better Things), and it showcases not just her grasp of comedy and timing, but the emotional and technical parts of filmmaking too. She is also blessed with the powerhouse pairing of Ilana Glazer and Melissa Buteau who are just fantastic fuel for the movie, and each other. Performances that reflect the state of honesty and rawness that underscore this friendship and the ethos of the film itself. Some elements of the film are a little weak, notably the lack of any real emotional waves after the departure of Claude, and development of Dawn’s relationship with her absent father (played with fleeting aplomb by Oliver Platt). It’s somewhat understandable, delving into either would tilt the film away from it’s comedic roots and detract from the emotional exploration of the central duo. Some may find the film to end on too tidy a note, but with all the growth and enduring positivity within the film, it’s undeniably a well-earnt resolution. One stemming from these two women finding strength in sisterhood. Maybe it doesn’t come through blood, but it’s certainly earned through sweat, tears, and breast milk.

Previous post SXSW 2024: OMNI LOOP
Next post SXSW 2024: Alex Garland’s CIVIL WAR Embeds Us In A Future We Don’t Want