SXSW 2024: ‘Babes’ Brings the Funny from Dynamic Duo Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau

Abe Friedtanzer reviews Pamela Adlon's "Babes," which premiered at the 2024 SXSW Film and Television Festival.
User Rating: 9

There isn’t a switch you magically push to become an adult, and it’s not great when two best friends make that invisible transition at different points. But, as people get older and develop separate interests, they tend to drift apart. Some people may still resist that change, even if it’s clear that things are no longer the same as they always were. Babes offers a hilarious look at one woman’s desperate attempt not to grow up while simultaneously facing a transformative challenge that will ensure that her life will forever be different.

Eden (Ilana Glazer) and Dawn (Michelle Buteau) are best friends who have a Thanksgiving tradition of seeing a movie together in Manhattan. This time, however, Dawn is very pregnant with her second child and begins going into labor during the movie. Eden comes along to the delivery, which she doesn’t find nearly as magical as she had always pictured. After purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of sushi before being denied reentry into the hospital room because she’s not immediate family, she rides her four subway trains home and meets a man (Stephan James) in a red bow tie. They have an unforgettable night together punctuated by unprotected sex Eden believes to be safe because she’s on her period, leading to an unprecedented new lifestyle change for the strong-willed but totally clueless expectant mother.

This is a film that instantly establishes its two main personalities. Eden is the definition of a chatterbox, fitting so many syllables into the span of just a few seconds and always ready with a questionably appropriate comment about everything. As soon as Dawn puts it together that she’s the reason every theater seat is wet, she realizes that she has to go to the hospital and won’t be able to eat until she delivers the baby. Dawn then goes with Eden to a restaurant and orders every food item she can possibly think of, savoring each bite until the last possible moment. Their opposing reactions to the smell emanating in the hospital room – horrific, Eden protests, while Dawn believes it’s beautiful since she associates it with the birth of her first child – perfectly encapsulate the distance between their worldviews.

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Babes marks the first film directed by Pamela Adlon, who has extensive experience behind the camera working on her Emmy-nominated series Better Things. Directing from a script by Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz, Adlon guides a film that moves effortlessly from scene to scene, keeping the humor going in each interaction. It’s a film set in New York City that feels distinctly like the Big Apple but doesn’t reference it all that often aside from complaints about subway transfers, fourth-floor walk-ups (which provide the name for the yoga studio Eden runs out of her home), and finding a cheaper place to live. Adlon is a natural, and she’s in great company with her lead actresses.

Glazer, best known for co-creating and starring in Broad City, does a miraculous job of keeping up with her character’s incessant thoughts and word vomit, and at times it’s almost hard to believe she truly exists. But she maintains the humor in such a formidable way that she’s still magnetic to watch, and any stretch is worth it because she’s just that funny. Buteau is a tour de force, encapsulating the strains of motherhood that her supportive husband (Hasan Minhaj) does his best to understand and which Eden can’t hope to comprehend since she’s never had to put another person ahead of herself. Together, they’re comedy gold, and it’s also fun to see supporting turns from James and Minhaj. John Carroll Lynch, Keith Lucas, and Kenneth Lucas have minor but memorable roles as medical providers with some great running commentary about the work that they do.

Babes shouldn’t be taken as a literal representation of longtime best friends but instead a humor-laced look at how people grow apart and then either try to work to come back together or decide to just give up. There are moments throughout this film where both endings seem equally possible, infusing effective drama into a film that’s mostly focused on firing off as many jokes as possible from both its protagonists. For parents and especially mothers, there should be a little extra to appreciate about this film, and for everyone else, it will still be an absolutely fantastic and hilarious time. 

Abe Friedtanzer’s final rating for Babes is a 9/10

Summary
Babes shouldn’t be taken as a literal representation of longtime best friends but instead a humor-laced look at how people grow apart and then either try to work to come back together or decide to just give up. There are moments throughout this film where both endings seem equally possible, infusing effective drama into a film that’s mostly focused on firing off as many jokes as possible from both its protagonists.
9
Amazing

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