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‘Babes’ Has Gaping Vaginas, Lactating Tits, and Gut-Busting Laughs

SXSW
SXSW

Not to be a millennial about this, but millennial comedy (and I mean good millennial comedy) gets a bad rap. That sort of gung-ho, idealistic humor—shared by the last generation raised before babies came out of the womb holding phones in their tiny, wrinkly hands—typically feels out of date the second a punchline drops. Making ageless comedy is tough, especially when the way the entire world operates shifts so quickly during a few years of your lifespan.

One of the all-time finest examples of millennial comedy remains Broad City, the brilliantly observational, deceptively tender tale of two New York besties that, aside from a few notable moments here and there, hasn’t aged a day. Half of that timelessness can be credited to its star, Ilana Glazer, who co-created and co-wrote Broad City alongside Abbi Jacobson. During the show’s run, Glazer proved herself a sharp wit when it came to skewering the experience of being a modern woman trying not to be spat out by the world.

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Now, Glazer is doing it again. But this time, she’s shirking Broad City’s signature messiness for a more refined stab at enduring millennial satire. In Babes, which premiered as part of the headlining slate at SXSW Film Festival, Glazer and co-writer Josh Rabinowitz craft a fiercely funny and affectionate take on the pitfalls of best friendships as those relationships age. While Babes doesn’t seek to reinvent the comedy wheel, Glazer once again excavates the bonds between women to find all of those hysterical intricacies that she is so adept at sending up. With co-star Michelle Buteau and director Pamela Adlon also lending their considerable talents to Glazer and Rabinowitz’s writing, Babes’ benevolent humor skims the great heights of a Nora Ephron film for a modern take on womanhood that feels close to classic on arrival.

Babes, much like Broad City, is a double-entendre title. Yes, it refers to its two gorgeous stars, but it also winks at what both women will experience before the film is over. Eden (Glazer) and Dawn (Buteau) share a 27-year friendship that has never waned. Their connection is so strong that they’ve never once missed out on a tradition. Even when Dawn is nine months pregnant with her second child, neither she nor Eden is going to drop their annual ritual of seeing a movie together every Thanksgiving. That is, until Dawn’s water breaks before the trailers have even started, which they initially chalk up to the theater’s seats being mysteriously wet. The two of them being New Yorkers, neither of them bat an eye at a moist piece of upholstery until they figure out the common denominator: Dawn’s dripping downtown duct.

Because these besties do everything together, it’s not long after Dawn gives birth that Eden also finds herself pregnant from a one-night stand. Though Babes starts with a hilariously foul cold open, the circumstances surrounding Eden’s conception are treated with far less repugnance. There’s a true and recognizable sweetness to the way Glazer and Rabinowitz construct the road to Eden’s pregnancy, one that feels iconically New York without smashing your face into it. Adlon also knows when to pull back, jumping between Eden and Dawn so the film doesn’t feel too self-satisfied before it even gets going.

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But once Babes settles into its story, good luck trying to avoid the deluge of clever running jokes and unforgettable one-liners that await. If you’ve ever tried to quote something Glazer has said in Broad City and found yourself unable to match her impeccable delivery, I’m sorry to report that Babes is just as extraordinary. Yes, Glazer is very much recalling the same character she played for five seasons during the 2010s, but it’s pretty difficult to issue a complaint when she’s so damn great at nailing that one archetype. In one scene, Eden—who’s going to have a biracial baby—visits her OBGYN (the great John Carrol Lynch, who gets his own repeat gag that kills every time) with Dawn. During the appointment, Eden offhandedly asks her best friend, “Do you have any advice for me as an upcoming Black parent?” It’s so casually inane that it’s easy to imagine Glazer’s Broad City character asking the same question and getting the exact same exasperated response.

Buteau lobs all of those reactions back at her co-star like she’s playing the most effervescent game of volleyball anyone has ever seen. In Babes, Buteau serves, bumps, sets, and spikes droll dialogue back and forth over the net with Glazer, and looks like she’s having the time of her life doing it. She’s game to be physical and outsized, but never so excessive that it’s beyond what the scene would demand. Dawn is not merely a best friend; she’s Eden’s equally three-dimensional match and a gorgeously rendered character all on her own. Without Buteau, and the magnetic chemistry that she and Glazer share, Babes would only be half as great as it is.

But regardless of who’s on the call sheet, that excellence is embedded into Babes’ bones. Rabinowitz and Glazer have written a script that fluidly bounces between witty bits and moving moments that reflect the strife some friendships face as they grow and change. It’s in these sequences that the film graduates from a movie that’s merely very funny and becomes something genuinely absorbing. All of the narrative beats are familiar for a comedy-forward dramedy, but Babes finds new and inventive ways to get there that other comedies simply don’t.

These small revelations of the heart are what the classic Nora Ephron screenplays were full of. At one point, the film references the late writer-director directly, in a scene that coincidentally feels like it could have been taken from one of her movies. These sequences are not tributes, nor are they lame ripoffs. They only contain the same honest humanity that Ephron always wrote with and wrote about. Glazer has spent a decade proving that she is a perceptive talent, someone who can look around at people and the world we live in and understand why it’s all so inherently funny. Her pragmatic humor is once-in-a-lifetime kind of stuff. And though Glazer is best when she’s playing a heightened version of herself, that’s perfectly fine. The most eternal humor comes from real experience, and Babes is bursting with the kind of honesty that too few writers are comfortable gambling with.

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