Ilana Glazer’s New Comedy “Babes” Tackles Motherhood with Unfiltered Humor and Friendship

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We all have to grow up eventually. As Jordan Peterson suggests, this is easiest to do if you have children. New mother Ilana Glazer, known for playing a raunchy single girl in the sitcom Broad City, probably understands this better than most. However, becoming a mother doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning toilet humor. In fact, it might be more relevant than ever before.

Now the mother of a 2-year-old, Glazer brings her unabashed humor to Babes, a comedy centered around friendship, motherhood, and unexpected pregnancy. Along with fellow mother and longtime friend Michelle Buteau, Glazer plays Eden, a yoga instructor who is into psychedelics and casual sex. Her best friend, Dawn (Buteau), is a recent mother of two who struggles with breastfeeding her infant and holding down a nanny for her 4-year-old.

When Glazer finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand, she unexpectedly decides to keep the baby. “It just feels like destiny, and this is destiny’s child,” she says, giggling at the unintentional pun. (Conveniently for the plot, her hook-up dies shortly after their encounter.)

It feels pleasantly pro-life to watch a woman joyfully embrace her unborn child on screen, despite the film’s efforts to remind us that she didn’t have to make that choice. (Glazer, who co-wrote the film’s script, has been vocal about her pro-choice beliefs, including on Babes‘s press tour.)

When Eden informs her twin STI doctors about her pregnancy, one cheers, “Single mom!” The other counters, “She may not keep the baby,” gesturing broadly and adding, “Choice.” In a line meant to be humorous yet subtly critical of our choice-based culture, the first twin revises his cheer: “Single!”

Even Dawn is initially unsupportive of Eden, expressing disappointment when her friend announces she’ll continue her pregnancy. Nevertheless, Dawn pledges to accompany her to all her prenatal appointments.

Is Eden ready to grow up? Not quite at the moment; she thinks watching The Omen with Dawn’s 4-year-old is a good idea as long as he keeps it secret from his parents. But she will be.

Babes primarily focuses on friendship, though parents might find many scenes cathartic or laugh-out-loud funny. For example, after struggling with a low supply of breast milk, Dawn dramatically smashes and burns her hospital-grade breast pump. And after giving birth, Eden mistakenly thinks the adult diapers for postpartum mothers are for relieving oneself in, prompting a horrified reaction from a nurse.

Dawn and Eden share a compelling chemistry as they navigate the challenges of adult friendship. However, the film’s portrayal of parenthood, despite its raw and humorous moments, seems to miss something.

In a recent interview, Glazer described pregnancy and motherhood: “It’s total ecstasy. It’s also incredibly hard, messy, frustrating. You can beat yourself up. You feel distant from your partner in ways you didn’t realize you would, and you have to work in new ways to find each other again. It’s dark at times, but, damn, the light shines brighter than I’ve ever seen in my life.”

It’s unfortunate that we don’t see this complexity on screen. Dawn’s relationship with her children is distant at best. It’s her husband (Hasan Minhaj) who is shown caring for them while Dawn suffers from constant burnout. On her husband’s birthday, after placing his cake on the kitchen table, she retreats to watch her family wearily from the stairwell. She could be experiencing postpartum mood disorders, and feeling overwhelmed after the birth of another child is to be expected. But it’s never clear what Dawn likes about being a mother, or if she even likes her children.

In a pivotal scene, Dawn returns home from accompanying Eden on her “babymoon” to find the house literally in disarray. An old pipe has burst, flooding their home with Civil War-era sewage and turning it into a toxic wasteland. She tells her husband she can’t do this anymore, not even sure what “this” is. She wants to be with her children while at work, and be at work or anywhere else when with her children.

Her husband expresses similar sentiments. He hates his job but feels it’s necessary; the best you can hope for, he says, is to work until you die so your children can be healthy and happy. They feel “f***ed,” he concludes. They share their misery and end up in bed together.

It’s supposedly comforting that the couple is on the same page, but that page is depressingly bleak. This contrasts sharply with Eden’s attitude; after giving birth, she wonders aloud why news anchors aren’t discussing the miracle of life all the time. (One reason: it wouldn’t be very pro-choice of them.)

Babes is entertaining, easy to watch (if sometimes uncomfortable), and noteworthy for its gritty depictions of pregnancy, birth, and the challenges new mothers face. But it overlooks the directive “show, don’t tell.” You can tell the audience that parenthood is wonderful and worthwhile, but unless they see it, they won’t believe you.

Maybe the film needs more perspective from the hormonal postpartum mother who is flooded with oxytocin. Life is a miracle, even if that miracle often comes with a lot of mess.

Madeline Fry Schultz
Madeline Fry Schultz
Contributors Editor. Madeline previously worked at the Philanthropy Roundtable, where she helped edit Philanthropy magazine and run the website's blog. Before that, she was the culture commentary writer at the Washington Examiner. She studied French and journalism at Hillsdale College.

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