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‘Babes’ is messy and honest

Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer in BABES
Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer in BABES

The first 20 minutes of Babes tell you everything you need to know about the kind of movie you’re in for, which is to say it swings wildly between tones, opening with loud, brash comedy, walking the very thin line between “way too obnoxious” and “just obnoxious enough to be laugh-out-loud funny.” It follows that up with a sequence that’s much quieter, sweeter, and more human, not at all like what we’d just seen a few moments before.

It's not so much that these tones conflict as it is they coexist, sometimes resulting in scenes that don’t work at all in one way, but work quite well in another. Babes stars and was written by Ilana Glazer from TV’s Broad City, and here she’s a self-absorbed New Yorker who has what ends up being a one-night stand and finds herself pregnant, much to the chagrin of her best friend, who’s just had a child of her own, and who is also fairly self-absorbed. This leads to any number of situations involving the, let’s say, more unexpected physical aspects of pregnancy, which, yes, does result in gross-out humor, but that is also, frankly, absolutely based in reality. And meeting that reality head on is something the film does well, and something that sets it apart from other films, most of which don’t actually seem to know what a pregnancy is like, despite the fact that we all came from them and they’re all around us all the time.

The movie also acknowledges the crushing weight of parenthood in a way that’s maybe not unique, but that is rare and welcome. The broad comedy is sometimes too broad, but the movie is quite funny—the entire supporting cast is magnificent, with Oliver Platt knocking his few minutes on screen out of the park, and John Carroll Lynch elevating what is really a pretty lazy joke into something softer, kinder, and funnier than what we might expect. There may be times when Babes just pushes too far, but it’s got more than enough that’s very, very real.

Babes is in theaters May 24th.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.