Pregnancy Comedy Babes Brings Real Women’s Bodies to a Fantasy World

Movies Reviews Pamela Adlon
Pregnancy Comedy Babes Brings Real Women’s Bodies to a Fantasy World

Eden (Ilana Glazer) jostles her sour-gummies-in-popcorn to take a closer look at her best friend’s pussy. They’ve met to maintain their decades-long tradition of seeing a movie on Thanksgiving, but Dawn (Michelle Buteau) is seriously pregnant, so it’s worth a peek. Sure enough, the syncopated rhythms dripping onto Eden’s phone signal that labor has started, even if it wasn’t the expected “woosh” we see in the movies. Babies are ready when they’re ready. By the time the title credits for Babes slide in on the hospital elevator doors, Dawn has left a steady, hilarious stream of screams and fluids in her wake.

Pamela Adlon’s charming debut feature, Babes (co-written by Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz) feels like a film from yesteryear rolled around in its filmmakers’ musical senses of comedy. Over their year together, Eden and Dawn go through many of the predictable ups and downs you might expect in any female friendship movie of the last 15 years. Eden sees Dawn through a difficult postpartum stage, helping her and her husband Marty (Hasan Minhaj) adjust to life with a second child and lending moral support (or mushrooms) where needed. In return, Dawn validates Eden’s carefree lifestyle, just as she’s done every day over the decades of their friendship. But when Eden suddenly becomes a single mom, it tests their codependency. Bonds are stressed, and distance happens for the first time. 

Through it all, we know everything is going to work out. Everything, from the plot to the jokes, is a setup for a payoff. Even if, thematically, we’re shown that there’s no such thing as “perfect timing,” Babes has very sharp comedic rhythms. Adlon’s deadpan and dead-to-rights style of directing that we saw on FX’s Better Things fits perfectly with Glazer’s silly, expressive and improvisational style, while moving effortlessly to support Buteau’s planted and direct approach. Together, they celebrate all different kinds of comedy in the same way Babes delights in the diversity of women’s experiences.

Babes finds heart and humor in its honesty about bodies. There’s a noticeable intention to be frank about all the gory details of pregnancy, birth, motherhood and all the labor that women do. They’ll talk about the hemorrhoids, the tearing, the exhaustion with men and the way pumping machines make one’s nipples unrecognizable—all with the hope of destroying the complexes women have about their bodies. But in critiquing the sanitized varnish put over women’s biology and birth specifically, Adlon and Glazer end up swapping one veneer for another.

The New York that Dawn and Eden live in is a predictable fantasy world where everyone is happily employed and handsomely paid. Money and housing are of little concern. Eden winces at expensive sushi but can cover the tab. No one ever freaks out over a hospital bill. Though presented as “real” women with human bodies, their circumstances are far from typical or relatable.

Despite its realist focus on women’s bodies and choices, Babes teeters on being irrelevant to women’s contemporary material realities. For a pregnancy comedy released in 2024, there’s shockingly little mention of the currently unstable political climate surrounding women’s healthcare and access to choice, like the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. Dawn and Eden’s decisions are all completely accessible and achievable, which keeps the film light but without any lasting bite or legacy. It’s a pity, because Adlon and Glazer situate their characters in an ongoing cycle of female friendships, and it would’ve been great for them to also live in a more nuanced world that archived our times for future friends to watch. 

Babes is like Eden’s sour-gummies-in-popcorn, a sweet treat that may not nourish you but is enjoyable nonetheless. In the establishing montage of Aldon and Glazer’s New York, we glimpse two girls whispering with each other. Then we meet up with Eden and Dawn at the cinema. By the end, Adlon and Glazer have set us up for the next generation of play friends that will become family. While it sometimes feels like the comedy is spinning in place, Babes is an often hilarious reminder that there are many cycles in life.

Director: Pamela Adlon
Writer: Ilana Glazer, Josh Rabinowitz
Starring: Ilana Glazer, Michelle Buteau, John Carroll Lynch, Hasan Minhaj
Release Date: May 17, 2024

B.L. Panther is a culture writer, scholar and Pisces from Northern Illinois. B! writes for outlets such as Honey Literary Journal and The Spool. A champion hermit, they enjoy reading, the indoors, afternoon naps and doing nothing at all.

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