Friends Forever? Forever Ever?: The Post-Feminist World of ‘Babes’

By Amarantha da Cruz

“Babes” the film premiers nationwide (USA) on May 17th.

Before I say anything, I predict that “Babes” will (hopefully) be the most talked about movies of 2024.

We’re introduced to single 30-something yoga instructor, Eden (Broad City’s Ilana Glazer) and her childhood bff, Dawn (Michelle Buteau), a married, successful dentist who is about to have her second child. They both hail from Queens, with Eden still living there and Dawn now a fancy Manhattan Upper West Sider.

After Dawn gives birth, with Eden by her side, in a hilarious scene that involves a lot of fluids and her crawling on all fours (the writers say it’s based on a true story), Eden gets on the subway headed home, where she has a fateful encounter with a tall, dark, and handsome man named Claude. 

Dispelling the myth that a one-night stand is always alcohol-fueled or unfeeling, Eden and Claude are vulnerable with each other from the moment their eyes land on each other; with their open and honest communication, creating intimacy, they dive into their single night of what can only be described as lovemaking. What’s interesting about the dialogue that leads up to the sex scene is how there’s a lot of emphasis on consensual sex for both parties (a move that the director says was very much on purpose and the point), without ever skipping a beat in the sexiness and flirtation. 

Not long after the delicious night, Eden, who had unprotected sex because she was on her period, believing that it meant she was safe, finds herself pregnant by Claude, who vanishes for undisclosed reasons. After considering her options (and abortion is a normal, and socially acceptable, and understood option in this movie), she decides to keep it and raise the child as a single mother, counting on her best friend’s support and guidance.

The two leading actresses are hilarious, almost like an old vaudeville act, but Michelle Buteau shines. She is the queen of facial expressions and gestures here (especially eye-rolling), conveying most of her feelings, saying much more silently than she does by delivering the words she’s given. Glazer has less expression but a sharp tongue and mind (Glazer is also the co-writer of “Babes”), and we know her character’s level of anxiety by how hilariously fast or slow she’s talking. I overheard someone say Glazer is exactly as she is on Broad City, believing she’s probably just playing herself. I’ll admit that I’ve never seen “Broad City,” so I don’t know if it’s true, but whatever the case, it works.

 

The women feel feelings, but they are more logic-driven (at least Dawn is), and they are a far cry from how we typically see women in film. These women are tough, like city women must be. You never have an Oscar-worthy cry or speech, with feelings more contained—bottled up, giving more tension to their worries and drama. Eden fears being pregnant and alone, while Dawn deals with what seems to be post-partum depression mixed with a mid-life crisis. And despite the women trying to be there for each other, they are inevitably alone in their experience. 

As “Babes” explores the freaky miracle and hardship of pregnancy, and motherhood, and expectations in friendship, it’s all set in a sort of post-feminist world. In the world of “Babes,” we’ve already surpassed the challenges and barriers that women have historically faced (and still do), and there are a lot of vocalized validations, affirmations, and admiration for women and what they are capable of, especially as givers of life. Dawn’s ridiculously supportive, patient, and doting husband (Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj), who both works and takes care of the children and household duties (he can do it all, y’all!), never once complains about it; instead, he celebrates his wife’s success and practically bleeds empathy, encouraging Dawn to be more compassionate with herself. As for Eden, she is the one who picks up Claude and takes him home. There’s never a moment of slut-shaming, or “I don’t usually do this,” or doubt or regret. It is what it is. Women are respected here. In this world, men are supporting characters who are not mentioned in conversations among women, nor do the women’s lives or decisions center around or have much relation to men (one might say it is the anti-Sex and the City). In this fictionalized New York, the upper middle class and Manhattan’s Upper West Side are all visibly successful people of color. The only times I remember seeing white people includes the gynecologist, a hilarious, weird doctor who’s desperately trying to hide that he’s balding, the other dentist (played by icon Sarah Bernhard) in Dawn’s practice, Dawn’s plumber who takes care of the shit in her brownstone apartment, and Eden’s dad, played by the brilliant and underrated Oliver Platt in a most touching performance.

 

Platt shines as Eden’s father, making the most out of his five minutes of screentime. “Babes” is not only about friendship and motherhood; it also explores and is even, at times, haunted by the theme of the absent father—from Claude revealing that he grew up fatherless because his father died young to Claude’s absence from his child’s life to Eden’s complex relationship with her absent father due to mental illness. Platt treats his character compassionately and embodies mental illness without stereotypical exaggerations. Eden’s “deadbeat” dad loves his daughter but is limited in what he can offer, yet not limited in intellectual or emotional intelligence, humor, and even self-awareness. Platt made the most out of the tiny role and gave justice to the subject of an invisible disability. And despite Eden frequently showing lapses in maturity, she is the most mature about and around her father, whom she loves and accepts for who he is, without judgment or expectations. She reserves her great expectations for her best friend, Dawn.

The two friends are tested by life and each other, examining the concept of commitment in a friendship. When we’re young, friends are the most essential thing in our lives, sometimes surpassing our feelings towards family or lovers. Those big feelings can blur lines (Heavenly Creatures, anyone?), and even more so in female friendships that tend to be emotionally and physically intimate. ‘‘Babes” studies the intense friendships of youth into adulthood and how a long-time close friendship can mimic a marriage that needs work, but does it have obligations? 

“Babes” is an up-to-date (post-MeToo era), more refined version and mash-up of “Knocked Up” and “Bridesmaids,” but more woke, sensitive, diverse, and well-rounded. It’s a love letter to millennials and the rise of millennial women having kids later in life and doing it alone, by choice. It’s a look at a new concept in America’s chosen family. 

It’s hysterical yet pensive. It’s exciting yet heartbreaking. It’s full of surprises and unexpected twists. It can be really gross, at times. It’s sweet without being saccharine. And it’s essential, given the times we women are living in, because, just because the protagonist keeps the baby does not make this movie any less about the right to choose and what that means. 

“Babes” is about the unexpected things that find and change us. It’s about one of the greatest loves in a woman’s life: the one with her female best friend.

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Amarantha da Cruz is an American-Brazilian writer, editor, curator, and the founder of OyeDrum. You can learn more about her here and find out what she sounds like here. She enjoys the occult, music and film, in that order.