How ‘Babes’ Stars Ilana Glazer and Michelle Buteau Made Motherhood Real in Refreshing Comedy

“Babes” is billed as a buddy comedy of sorts that promises to delve into the complexities of female friendship with a blend of laughter, tears and labor pains. But stars Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer (who co-wrote the script with Josh Rabinowitz) relished the opportunity to tackle a realistic and refreshing approach to motherhood in Pamela Adlon’s feature directorial debut.

Behind the big laughs are some even bigger messages that haven’t been successfully tackled onscreen until now, as the film explores the magic and messiness of life through the eyes of two best friends in the throes of adulthood.

Unrestrained by the confines of acceptable storytelling, it’s clear Adlon wasn’t afraid to go where no pregnancy film has gone before. Glazer seems bewildered by the fact that it’s taken so long to get here.

“You get one story told about women by women or one story told about the trans experience from a trans person living that life and everyone’s like ‘Everything is woke or politicized!,’” Glazer lamented to TheWrap. “But there’s like, no stories about marginalized voices and women, even though we’re everywhere. We usher in humanity. We make humanity. It’s really upsetting to sit and think about the list of movies and there aren’t too many. Or, not a one.”

Glazer’s Eden is a free spirit who’s enjoying a care-free, single existence until a one-night stand leaves her unexpectedly expecting. The journey of Buteau’s Dawn is a relatable one, as she’s a working mother and wife who just gave birth to her second child and has to navigate all that comes with it.

“Thank God to have some release to just let the energy flow because we’re just holding it all together,” Glazer said. “I love Michelle’s performance as Dawn because she is so representing that it’s coming from all angles. Her kid, her body, her best friend; it’s even coming from her boss and she’s having to be like appeasing to everyone.”

While viewers will likely be floored by the no-holds-barred depictions of pregnancy and child birth (like finally seeing what happens to that pesky placenta) they’ll likely be more moved by what isn’t included.

Unlike so many other offerings that pedal tired tropes of women complaining about the extra pounds they’ll pack on during pregnancy, there’s none of that in “Babes.” “This unrealistic patriarchal standard of beauty? We’re not doing that,” Buteau said. “It’s not about what size we are after we’ve grown a body. It’s about mental health.”

There’s also no bee-line to the psychiatrist’s office when Dawn is struggling with the inevitably debilitating days and months that follow when one’s family expands.

“We feel like we have to do everything and we feel like we have to be good at everything and we feel like we have no one to talk to,” Buteau added. “Especially women who have just given birth who are beating themselves up because it wasn’t a natural birth, it was a C-section, or feeling like ‘I can’t breastfeed and I should be’ and it’s like ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Instead of pushing her to find some pills, Dawn’s husband, Marty (Hasan Minhaj) pushes her to a night of partying with her pal to let off some steam. When Marty sees his wife stressed out, burned out and touched out, he doesn’t assume she’s “suffering” from postpartum depression. A seemingly inconsequential move says so much that hasn’t been said. It gives women permission to struggle in the aftermath of childbirth and admit that it’s hard. It’s hard even if you’re killing it. And admitting it’s hard does not mean that you have a problem that must be “fixed.”

“What I love about Dawn and Marty is that the love is there. Having a second kid shortly after the first one that’s very young, it does feel like you’re putting something very heavy on top of an already cracked foundation because you’re trying to figure out who you are,” Buteau continued. “I think life is pretty messy and we should give each other license to complain and talk without having to fix it or have an answer or whatever it is. Sometimes you just have to say it out loud and that’s part of the healing process.”

Marty’s character exemplifies all the things a husband and father should be. He’s an attentive, understanding partner and he’s all in when it comes to taking care of their older son. While its refreshing to see a man and father represented in this capable capacity, what’s more important is the way it’s normalized. There’s no parade being held for the dad who’s simply co-parenting his children or supporting his partner in the ways that should be expected. His active participation isn’t presented as “special” and therein lies the real statement.

“I think that the way that women have been dehumanized and flattened by storytelling, men have too,” Glazer said. “We didn’t want to make him this perfect, saintly man, the way that women are made the virgin or the whore. We didn’t want to make him the virgin version. We wanted him to be annoyed and a little annoying at times. It’s what’s realistic and what makes sense. It’s just the way it should be.”

How it “should be” isn’t how it’s been when it comes to telling stories about women, and the team behind “Babes” offers up a blueprint that leans into authenticity that can have a lasting impact on the industry.

“In TV and film there’s a responsibility. It’s the modeling for society and culture,” Glazer added. “It’s important that we model friends who can withstand the changes so that we can say ‘I saw that and I related’ or see partners be there for each other. It’s a responsibility to model health.”

“Babes” opens in select theaters May 17 before expanding wide on May 24.

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