Movie Review: ‘BAbes’ Is A Giddy, Raunchy, Moving And (Very) Gooey Look At Childbirth And Friendship

This image released by Neon shows Michelle Buteau, left, and Ilana Glazer in a scene from the film "Babes." (Gwen Capistran/Neon via AP)
This image released by Neon shows Michelle Buteau, left, and Ilana Glazer in a scene from the film "Babes." (Gwen Capistran/Neon via AP)
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You know what? It’s true. They never do tell you about the placenta.

Let us explain. But first, let’s also point out that if you’re already queasy at the mention of “placenta,” well, “Babes” — director Pamela Adlon’s brash, chaotic, hilarious and occasionally overly gooey (in so many ways) childbirth comedy — may not be your thing. Just saying.

Anyway! Somewhere late into “Babes, ” Eden (Ilana Glazer) is giving birth. We’ve seen most of this before in countless comedies: the outlandish obstacles, the tense trip to the hospital, the traffic — oh, the traffic — all melting away in that glorious moment when baby arrives and everyone starts happy-crying.

We get all that in “Babes,” too, but then the doctor says “Start pushing” — again — and Eden asks, “What, is there another baby?” And she’s told no, it’s the placenta, aka the afterbirth. Ugh! “They don't tell you about this part,” notes her friend, Dawn.

Which is funny, but also basically true. And there are lots of other pregnancy-related things people don’t mention, let alone depict in movies. Like: secretions. “Babes,” written by Glazer with Josh Rabinowitz, loves bodily secretions of any kind. Not showing them, thank heavens, but talking about them. No wonder some are calling “Babes” the “Bridesmaids” of childbearing. Or “Knocked Up” without the Seth Rogen part.

Speaking of the men in “Babes,” well, the title should give you a sense of how important they are to the narrative. This is a film about two women, Eden and Dawn, lifelong buddies, and how pregnancy and childbirth change them. Side note: When we speak of goo, we’re referring both to actual goo – as referenced earlier – but also narrative goo. As in, schmaltz. No obstacle ever arises for long. Everybody basically hugs and cries it out whenever things get complicated.

But hey, most of this can be forgiven when a film is this well acted — especially by Glazer, a gifted comedian. Both she and Michelle Buteau, as Dawn, are nothing but authentic and moving, but Glazer in particular will have you howling one minute and wiping those misty eyes the next.

We begin early on Thanksgiving morning, at the multiplex, because Thanksgiving morning movies are a tradition for Eden and Dawn. The wrinkle here is that Dawn is pregnant with her second kid. Very pregnant. Very, very pregnant.

In fact, she goes into active labor as the movie starts. But instead of going to the hospital as directed by her doctor, Dawn requests a big meal at a restaurant, because you’re not allowed to eat in the hospital — leading to a high-slapstick scene at a posh eatery that includes Eden examining, amid bites, whether Dawn is dilated (we told you these are very good friends).

Eventually we’re at the hospital, where Dawn crawls down the corridors in pain, and we learn about more gross things that happen during childbirth (the movie does not crawl toward grossness — it runs headlong into it.) We also meet Dawn’s husband, Marty (Hasan Minhaj). Marty is supportive and patient – to the point of utter implausibility.

Eden heads out to buy everyone sushi. In one of many Manhattan vs. Queens jokes, she buys it at a fancy place in Manhattan (she herself has remained in Queens, while Dawn has moved to the Upper West Side) and the bill comes to nearly $500. Unfortunately this IS plausible. It leads to a wonderful sequence where, on three or four subway trains back to Queens (we're on a holiday schedule), Eden shares this sushi spread with a cute actor (Stephan James) she meets, dressed in a burgundy tux, who’s just left a film shoot where he played "Sexy Black Waiter.”

A one-night stand ensues. And then, Eden discovers she's pregnant. This will radically shift the balance of her relationship with Dawn – and we don’t need to update you on any other relationships, because THIS is the one that matters.

There’s much here that rings true. Adlon, Glazer and Rabinowitz know how to get across the intensity of female buddyship, with the added complexity — not often explored in comedies — that these relationships can hurt, at bad times, perhaps even more than romantic ones.

Though there are occasional lapses in narrative logic, on a deeper level the filmmakers clearly know of what they speak. At a recent screening, Adlon and her stars related a few personal childbirth anecdotes in a pre-show talk, and sure enough, at least three of these anecdotes could be found in the movie. (The funniest, though not in the film, came from moderator Julia Louis-Dreyfus — involving a starstruck nurse exclaiming “Elaine!” at a very embarrassing moment.)

Breast pumps. Raging pregnancy hormones that make even produce look sexy. A male obstetrician (John Carroll Lynch, funny) who overshares. A birth plan with, why not, a ”prom” theme. All these elements, wacky or not, come together in a charming mishmash that adds something ultimately very important to the childbirth comedy genre: the message that childbirth is profound, yes, and full of wonder. But also, like life, it can be funny — and a bit of a mess.

“Babes,” a Neon theatrical release, has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association “for sexual material, language throughout, and some drug use.” Running time: 109 minutes. Three stars out of four.