‘Babes’ Review: Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer Charm in Pamela Adlon’s Buddy Comedy

The “Better Things” creator’s feature film debut hits the right notes in a comedy about accidental pregnancy and friendship

Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau in "Babes"
Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau in "Babes" (Neon)

Pamela Adlon knows what it takes to make a good comedy. After all, the actress and writer has been in the comedy sphere for decades, most notably in television. After years of providing the voice of Bobby Hill in “King of the Hill,” Adlon collaborated with comedian Louis C.K. as a performer, producer and writer on his seminal television series, “Louie.” She most recently made a name for herself as the multi-hyphenate talent behind the dramedy “Better Things,” for which she starred, cocreated, produced and directed.

Adlon seems to be a pea in a pod with “Broad City” actor and writer Ilana Glazer — two comedy geniuses who understand what it means to bring female characters to the forefront in a meaningful and often raunchy way. They are an ideal match in their newest joint project, “Babes,” which had its world premiere at the SXSW Film & TV Festival on Saturday.

Glazer cut her teeth in comedy alongside Abbi Jacobson on the Comedy Central series “Broad City,” a show that has seen a recent resurgence in popularity due to TikTok users finding the female-driven sitcom years after it left television screens.

“Babes” is cowritten by Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz, while Adlon is in the director’s chair, making her feature directorial debut. The film stars Glazer as Eden, a yoga instructor who runs her studio from her New York City apartment, aptly named “4th Floor Walk Up Yoga.” Brash and often forthcoming about anything that pops into her brain, Eden is supported by her married best friend, Dawn (Michelle Buteau).

The movie opens with the two compadres enjoying a 9 a.m. movie on Thanksgiving, a tradition they’ve kept alive for 27 years. Dawn is nine months pregnant and, coincidentally, goes into labor just as the two are about to enjoy their yearly tradition.

Eden and Dawn have a special friendship, the kind where when one of them is going into labor, the other kneels down to check just how dilated the soon-to-be mother’s cervix is. They also text pictures of their defecations to one another while simultaneously tracking each other’s location on their phones.

This is par for the course for Eden and Dawn. Some might say they are codependent, as Eden accompanies Dawn in the delivery room alongside Dawn’s ultra-supportive husband (Hasan Minhaj). Others might view their friendship as female empowerment at its absolute finest. But, with any long-lasting friendship, there are bound to be bumps in the road as the two adults find their way in the world.

In an instant, Dawn is now married with two children and finding it difficult to breastfeed, a practice almost every new mother has experienced but hardly ever shares with those around them for fear of appearing like a “bad mother.” Eden meets a charming actor (Stephan James) on the subway one Thanksgiving night and enjoys an exceptional evening that concludes in a one-night stand. The two friends’ lives begin to go in opposite directions after Eden discovers she is pregnant — while on mushrooms, no less.

The main problem with this life-altering news is that Eden’s one-night stand suddenly dies, leaving her to raise the baby alone.

“Babes” may deal with weighted adult issues like motherhood, friendship, connection and the struggles of moving on, but, rest assured, it is a comedic gold mine of delightful punch lines. Glazer and Buteau are perfectly in sync throughout the film, as if they, too, have been friends since childhood. Within their characters’ relationship is a grounded reality of what it takes to be a fully functional adult woman in the modern world, a theme that comes up time and time again.

Although this film could easily be compared to “Knocked Up” from the female perspective, the underlying premise comes from the connective tissue of a bond that seemingly cannot be broken. As adults age, partner up and have their own families, some friends move in different directions. Dawn and Eden are similar in this regard; Dawn feels the pressure of returning to work as a dentist while raising two kids, just as Eden experiences hormonal changes, hot flashes and morning, noon and night horniness.

Dawn can’t be everything Eden needs, and there’s a push-and-pull throughout the movie that results in both friends needing to rediscover their own sense of self-worth. The film’s conflict arises within these separate worlds, but like any good buddy comedy shows, strength comes from the hysterical moments that life throws at you. The trajectory of adult friendships might change over time, but the foundation of trust and respect makes Eden and Dawn’s journey worth watching.

Adlon’s comedic eye, and Glazer and Rabinowitz’s stellar words, will leave audiences’ faces grinning in excitement from start to finish. A continuous joke that speaks to male fragility throughout the film involves Eden’s doctor (John Carroll Lynch) repeatedly apologizing for his awful comb-over, a gag that never gets tiresome.

These moments make a case for the performances being pitch-perfect, particularly when Glazer and Buteau’s characters must ease his pain through flattery. Their chemistry grows infectious just as their characters seemingly move apart.

“Babes” is a strong directorial effort by Adlon and one that deserves every laugh it’s given.

Neon will release “Babes” on May 17.

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