Sunday, June 23, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Babes’ are the Best Buddies in Years

Director: Pamela Adlon
Writers: Ilana Glazer, Josh Rabinowitz
Stars: Ilana Glazer, Michelle Buteau, Hasan Minhaj

Synopsis: It tells the story of Eden who becomes pregnant from a one-night-stand and leans on her married best friend and mother of two to guide her.

A buddy comedy is only as good as the chemistry between the two leads. They have to be in sync and play off each other’s strengths. Often that means an odd couple, but it’s even better if they have their moments of balance between wild and reserved. There is such an alchemy in the performances of Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau. These two take every emotion and play it out between each other so superbly. They are the best buddies the buddy comedy has had in a while.

Babes takes everything that’s changed about comedy in the last 20 years and makes it work. The film is charming, heart warming, and hilarious. Not only is it a top notch buddy comedy, but it’s also a great body comedy. There have been several comedies about pregnancy and they have the pain, the screaming, the frustration; but they rarely go farther than one note into the nitty gritty. Babes takes us all the way through and then some. We get a pregnancy comedy that not only gives us one birth, but two, and builds on what happens after the baby is out while balancing everything that happens while the baby is still in. The good, the bad, and the gross things the human body goes through.

In a grossly funny scene, Eden (Ilana Glazer) is teaching her yoga class and morning sickness strikes. She doesn’t run to the bathroom, she doesn’t stop class, she doesn’t even stop talking, she pretends like nothing is happening. Eden takes her class through the poses as she does everything to keep her stomach contents in her body. She even goes far enough to have to swallow it back down, much to the disgust of the student directly in front of her. It’s a terrific work of physical comedy.

There’s a lot of terrific physical comedy in Babes, but its comedic heart is in the story penned by Ilana Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz. The two writers do the hardest work of a comedy in making this type of story fresh. It comes in the combinations of plots that all come together seamlessly. It’s the lifelong best friends trying to figure out how to be with each other as adults. It’s the new love blossoming. It’s the married couple trying to understand how they can really do this even if they have nothing but each other. It’s in the ludicrously funny C plot of an OB/GYN, Dr. Morris (John Carroll Lynch), who just can’t figure out how best to be bald. Glazer and Rabinowitz have found a great balance within this work.

The balance of this complex, but not convoluted, story is held intact by the superb direction of Pamela Adlon. Her eye for the comedic is unmatched. There’s a series of scenes in Babes that are utterly terrific, with Adlon putting her own spin on the New York City walk and talk. She stages a sit and chat on the subway. Eden travels a long way from her apartment to visit with Dawn (Michelle Buteau). She’s got to change trains three times. After good samaritan, Claude (Stephan James), keeps her from being trapped on a line going the wrong way, the two of them strike up a conversation because it turns out they live in the same neighborhood and have the same commute to make. Their chemistry is off the charts and results in the two of them spending the night together. It’s a terrific sequence with cinematographer Jeffrey Kim giving us different passenger points of view on the pair and editors Annie Eifrig and Elizabeth Merrick cutting together the best bits of this delightful sequence in tandem with Dawn’s troubles post birth. It’s a sequence that sets up so much of the film and the layers in between everything that’s to come.

There are some very predictable moments and Babes hardly reinvents the genre. It falls a bit toward that habit of late ’00s and early ’10s comedies that think there needs to be a lot of alternate improv takes within the same sequence, dragging the story down while we watch a sort of gag reel. Yet, there’s enough freshness and boldness that we can ignore the small voices in our heads and just revel in it. Babes is a hilarious, heartwarming, and empowering film. It’s the kind of comedy you need on the big screen. It demands laughs and tears among a room full of strangers having the same experience.

Grade: A

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