Transitioning the naturalistic comic sensibilities that made Better Things a success, Pamela Adlon’s feature debut Babes manages to co-opt the rhythms of a romantic comedy to explore the relationship between two best friends at opposite points of their lives.

Eden (Ilana Glazer, a co-writer here) and Dawn (Michelle Buteau) have been friends for 27 years. Married with one child and another on the way, Dawn seemingly has her life together, whereas Eden runs a yoga studio out of her apartment and doesn’t imagine settling down anytime soon. After an opening that sees Dawn go into labor during a ritual Thanksgiving-morning movie, Eden has a meet-cute with charismatic actor Claude (Stephan James). One midnight subway ride and sexual encounter later, Eden finds herself pregnant and staring down raising a baby alone. With her pregnancy she begins to increasingly lean on Dawn, who struggles with her husband Marty (Hasan Minhaj) to raise two children and balance a career.

Co-writing with her Broad City producer Josh Rabinowitz, Glazer eschews much of that show’s heightened tone for something that feels realistic (even if her expansive NYC apartment is straight out a sitcom). If Babes is episodic in construction––a late-act “babymoon” with Dawn and Eden resembles a bottle episode––Glazer and Rabinowitz create an authentic friendship between two people who are nevertheless drifting apart. 

It’s also a much more suitable vehicle for Glazer’s ruminations on pregnancy than her 2021 Rosemary’s Baby riff False Positive. If that film labored to dress up Glazer and co-writer John Lee’s ideas related to IVF under the guise of so-called “elevated horror,” Babes is much more attuned to her creative wavelength. It also brings to mind a recent trend of nicecore pregnancy comedies––Together Together especially––that steer clear of manufactured drama or romance for authentic depictions of childbirth’s tribulations and the friendships that are formed throughout the process. 

White Glazer is still doing a variation of her manic character from Broad City, she and Buteau craft fully formed characters. The friction Dawn feels while struggling to balance motherhood, marriage, and a career as a dentist is lived-in, Adlon playing up the punchlines while keeping all else grounded. Glazer oscillates between overwhelmed and excited, centralizing the ebbs and flows of pregnancy.

And Manaj is really quite good here, essentially serving second-fiddle to Buteau and Glazer’s hijinks, but creating a portrait of an exasperated dad who is just trying to be there for his wife. A subplot concerning Dawn and Marty’s search for a nanny feels both genuine and absurd, culminating in perhaps one of the best recent references to The Omen. The same goes for a short scene with Eden’s father Bernie (Oliver Platt) who, in the span of five minutes, upends the stereotype of a neglectful father. It’s the type of film that balances both the absurd and realistic quite exceptionally.    

With that, it’s also important to note that Babes is really quite funny. Making extensive use of its supporting cast, Glazer and Rabinowitz know how to set-up and pay off a joke. A running gag about the futile attempts of Eden and Dawn’s OBGYN (John Carroll Lynch) to grow hair to please his wife works every time he shows up. The same goes for an extended bit involving twins (Keith and Kenneth Lucas) who run a testing clinic that Eden and Claude frequent. 

It might not break new ground, but Babes is nevertheless something quite rare these days: both emotionally complex and hysterical. Adlon has perfected this form of comedic earnestness in her TV work; it’s a welcome move into feature filmmaking.

Babes opens in theaters on May 17.

Grade: B+

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