Babes Review | What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Pee and Poop Yourself)

by Andrew Parker

Babes is a sexually frank, gleefully juvenile, female driven comedy that reminds viewers that every summer should have one really great gross-out comedy, or why are we even living? While the whole thing is a bit rough around the edges structurally, narratively, and stylistically, Babes delivers some huge laughs and a good amount of heart to go along with all the gags about pee-pee, poo-poo, and the stretching out of private parts due to pregnancy. It’s not high art by any stretch, and all of this comes with a heightened atmosphere of ridiculousness, but Babes comes about its good time vibes honestly.

New Yorkers Eden (Ilana Glazer) and Dawn (Michelle Buteau) are lifelong best friends, but over the years their paths have diverged in different ways that makes seeing each other more difficult than it used to be. Proudly single, immature, and available Eden still lives out in Astoria and runs a ramshackle yoga studio, while Dawn – a dentist – has moved to the Upper West Side with her husband (Hasan Minhaj) and is the mother of two children. They remain inseparable, but when Eden gets pregnant from a kind-hearted one night stand (Stephan James) and decides to keep the baby, she wants Dawn along for support and guidance. With child care hard to come by, a house in need of major renovations, and her impending return to work full time, Dawn doesn’t have the sort of time left over that her needy bestie requires, forcing Eden to learn some much needed life skills alone and on the fly.

Directed by Pamela Adlon (creator of the series Better Things and the voice of Bobby Hill, among others) and working from a loose, free flowing script from Broad City co-creator Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz, Babes sets the tone early with an inspired, Thanksgiving-set get-together between friends in a movie theatre. The situation at hand is one that someone could believe would happen in real life, then a running gag is introduced, and things keep escalating to grosser, more patently ridiculous places. It’s a little jarring at first to get into, but it quickly becomes apparent that the point of Babes is to take inspiration from real life fears, embarrassments, failures, and successes and to make them as outlandish as possible. Babes speaks from a genuine place of experience, but cranks up the ridiculousness.

This balance of relatable, often bittersweet and painful material combined with off-the-wall shock humour doesn’t always land perfectly, and some scenes would play out better as stand-up bits or stand-alone sketches. At many points in Babes, it’s obvious that everyone involved threw the script away and decided to improvise in a bid to come up with a bigger laugh, sometimes leading to scenes that have more punchlines and zingers than necessary, like Adlon and company are trying to cram in too much of a good thing. Similarly, the script is so focused on hitting all of its gag points that the characterizations and scenarios feel perfunctory and thin in points. Babes also gives off the vibe that it has been cut down from a longer and larger project in a bid to keep the pace up, as some of the film’s more sincere (and possibly even dramatically defining) moments tend to crash into one another instead of getting time to breathe, and in some cases are never seen at all, and someone has to awkwardly explain what happened off screen.

Babes never achieves it’s all-time classic potential, but with leads as strong as Glazer and Buteau feeding off each other’s energy and matching beat-for-beat, it’s a smooth, frequently hilarious ride. It’s a fascinating, sometimes creepily close dynamic between Buteau and Glazer; one where it’s clear that Eden depends on Dawn to a severe degree, but not the other way around. Glazer is doing the sort of motor-mouthed, obliviously vain sort of character she has based her career on to this point, but the material she has created feels personal and observant, meaning there’s more of an arc to the sarcastic wittiness this time out. As Glazer’s right-hand-woman, Buteau gives one of the year’s best performances as a perpetually exhausted wife and mother trying and failing to strike some sort of balance. As a comedic and dramatic showcase for her talents, Buteau shines brightly, and gets some equally praise-worthy support from Minhaj as Dawn’s equally exhausted, but deeply loving husband. A key scene where the married couple is at the end of their rope mentally, physically, and financially is the sort of funny, yet tender scene Judd Apatow has tried to achieve for decades, but Adlon and her team get it done in one film.

The gags – meaning jokes, set-pieces, and literal lump-in-throat reflexes the audience could experience – come relentlessly in Babes, and while not all of them land, the film is constantly aiming to entertain. It’s made to be watched with a crowd of people where many members of the audience will likely see echoes of their own experiences and friendships reflected on screen. Babes is a film about friendship and motherhood, but also about community and togetherness. It’s an outrageous, bawdy, riff-o-rama, but with ideas and notions that can be taken seriously within the same comedic context. Together, Adlon, Glazer, and Buteau are a formidable comedic team that should work together again down the road. Come for the jokes about body parts getting stretched out, sore nipples, and comparing each other’s poops. Stay for the chance to laugh about things many women don’t get a chance to laugh about in the company of people who get the jokes.

Babes opens in Canadian cinemas on Friday, May 24, 2024.

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