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Ilana Glazer, Michelle Buteau on Parenting Comedy

Ilana Glazer, Michelle Buteau on Parenting Comedy

[This story contains spoilers for Babes.]

As Eden (Ilana Glazer) gazes at her own freshly-delivered babe toward the end of Babes, she marvels at the miracle of this tiny little person having gestated inside and sprung forth from her own body, and wonders aloud – granted, in a postpartum haze of delirium – why more people aren’t talking about this phenomenon constantly, every single day.

“It would end capitalism,” Glazer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “If we took more moments to revel in the magical beauty that is our existence, we would stop being ‘productive’ for six billionaires, and we would have to figure out a new way to live.”

If Babes is any indication, that new paradigm for living just might include an acknowledgement of not just how miraculous but also how uproarious the experiences of pregnancy and parenthood are – the various fluids that flow (or fail to flow) beyond one’s control, the unexpected horniness, the darndest things that kids say and do. What’s more, the Pamela Adlon-directed comedy, co-written by Glazer and Josh Rabinowitz, also finds a thoughtful place for men in this narrative, and for explorations of not just what happens to people in the lead-up to the Big Event (i.e. childbirth), but also its bloody (literally and figuratively) aftermath.

Babes, which premiered at SXSW and opens in theaters today, is bookended by two births that dramatically change the lifelong friendship between Eden and Dawn (Michelle Buteau). While Dawn is discovering the reality behind the proverbial “happily ever after” of being married with two kids and a stable career, Eden is just beginning her journey after she unexpectedly gets pregnant after a one-night stand.

Adlon, Glazer and Buteau spoke with THR about their own respective experiences with motherhood, the friends who inspired the story and why there aren’t (yet) more comedies about the everyday miracle of people coming out of people.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

When did you first realize pregnancy and parenthood were hilarious?

Pamela Adlon:None of it’s funny when it’s happening to you. That’s what’s funny now, because it is so ridiculous.

Michelle Buteau: The first time I dropped my baby when I was bathing them and I was like, “Oh, they’re slippery but they’re resilient!” There’s a lot of cartilage. I was terrified. I was crying but then laughing, and then laughing because I was crying.

I noticed that characters in the movie tended to use the phrase “pregnant person.” Was that a conscious decision?

Ilana Glazer: When I was pregnant, I had this experience where I was like, “I identify as a non-binary woman,” and I was feeling my masculinity and my femininity in my body in a new way. I used to really feel like my femininity was like me doing drag, that I was really this, like, masc Jewy little guy. Honestly, I look at Richard Simmons and I’m like, “Totally. Me too, dude.”

Buteau: I feel the same way about Little Richard! So we have our own Richards. (Laughs.)

Glazer: That language started coming up for me just naturally. And also “woman” and claiming my femininity in a new, truer way. I’m just showing what’s feeling true to me.

After Dawn gives birth, she seems to go through a funk that I interpreted as postpartum depression, although that’s never explicitly stated. Why was it important to show that experience but not name it?

Glazer: We were excited to not name it, leading with comedy over identity politics. The way that we experience Dawn’s postpartum depression with her is the way that we experience real life: “Of course life’s hard,” you tell yourself. “I have two kids, and I haven’t gotten a full night of sleep. Of course this is the way it’s supposed to be.” And then when you take a second to think about it, that’s when it hits you as a thing. I think by not naming it, we were better able to experience it and also have its impact stay with us. Rather than be a label we can now dump.

Adlon: I really dislike hitting things over the head. I like the realization to creep up on people. People would ask me all kinds of questions about Better Things, like “Why do they touch the statue on the head at the top of the stairs?” I’m not going to answer that for you. I remember somebody seeing one of the first paintings that I owned in my house, and they told me their interpretation of it, and it ruined the painting for me. So I never want to put my thumb on the scale in that way. But I love that you see Dawn leave her beautiful apartment [to go to work], her dream house with her dream husband and her two kids and this beautiful family relationship, and she’s sad. She can’t connect. And she’s watching her husband and son and she’s made a birthday cake, and she’s out of her mind with exhaustion. It’s all of those things. It’s really scary to get everything you want and then not have the energy to match it. That’s very interesting to me. She says to Marty [her husband, played by Hasan Minhaj], “I feel like I have everything and nothing all at once.” She just can’t connect. And Marty’s relating too. He’s like, “I go to work and nobody cares, and I come home and I’m exhausted. I don’t want this.” But you do want it. And you know when you really want it? It’s when your kids are grown.

Speaking of Marty, talk about your approach to portraying all the male characters in this story, who also include Eden’s Ob-Gyn (John Carroll Lynch), her father (Oliver Platt) and the twins who run her local STD testing clinic (Kenny and Keith Lucas).

Glazer: Michelle and I are lovers of men. We really love our men. We talk about our gratitude for our men. Men lovers here! I wrote this movie with Josh Rabinowitz and [producer] Susie Fox, who loves her husband too, and Josh is such a supportive, wonderful man, and his wife is a fucking badass. And in this system that we live in, men’s complexity of character hasn’t been honored, even with centering them. What are the most expensive movies? All guns and violence. It’s not humanizing. Men are not being humanized, [despite] being centered.

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Adlon: What I really love is that all of the men portrayed in this film show a vulnerability. All of them. The Lucas Brothers, John Carroll Lynch. Marty is not a schlubby husband. He’s a great partner, and you see that.

The same could be said of Eden’s would-be partner Claude (Stephan James), whose time in the movie is brief but impactful.

Glazer: We were so lucky to have Stephan in our silly little movie. He was in Beale Street!The caliber of actor that he is, it was so interesting to see his sort of tension around comedy. That was a sweet openness, [because] he’s never done a comedy before. The Claude character is based on me and Josh’s mutual best friend, Kevin Barnett, who was just a shooting star of a person and a comedian, and the world lost him in 2019. It was so healing to get to write in Kevin’s voice for that character. If you were friends with Kevin, you were in love with him. He was so magnetic, and such an important tentpole of our comedy community, that we miss him desperately and it was fun to honor him in that way.

Pamela, you’ve spoken of bringing “old mom” energy to the set. (Adlon has three post-adolescent daughters, while Buteau’s twins and Glazer’s daughter are toddlers.) What does “old mom” energy mean to you?

Adlon: It means no surprises for me. It’s like being on a boat, there’s a shark and there’s Quint [from Jaws]. You just know about everything. You’ve been through it, you’re not in the dark the way the young new moms are. But you’re also in awe of all the new strides in technology and information that have happened, so you could be a little bitter about the fact that these young bucks could take a peanut and go [makes blowing sound] and a stroller will magically appear. So it’s like, “Hold my beer,” and then some of it is like, very bitter.

Buteau: I had three-year-old twins at the time, and the first two years are just a blackout moment where I literally was changing a baby at night and I started to cry: “Oh my God, baby girl, you have a penis now!” My husband was like, “That’s the boy. Come back to bed.” You know what I mean? You have to write everything down because you don’t know if you’ve eaten, if you’ve pooped. In these moments of beautiful despair, it’s a privilege to be a tired parent. Pamela has this great deep arsenal, this memory vault of what it is. She has grown children, but she could tell a story and take you back to those long nights, those endless nights of feeding and changing.

Finally, at the end of the movie, Eden has this half-delirious monologue wondering why people aren’t talking about this miracle of childbirth all the time. So why do you think that is?

Adlon: I think when more women start talking about it and portraying it, it would make an impact. Men are supported in storytelling more than women are, so it’s just a matter of opening up to those kinds of stories.

Glazer: It would end capitalism. If we took more moments to revel in the magical beauty that is our existence, we would stop being “productive” for six billionaires, and we would have to figure out a new way to live, which apparently everybody’s ready for except for the six guys. We live in one potential way to organize eight billion people. It doesn’t have to be this way, all about making those six guys horde wealth violently. It could be based around making sure disabled people can have access to whatever buildings, or making sure children get education and have health and shelter. We could have a whole world organized around tree health! But instead we live in the world that we live in, and we’re kept from having that time and space to be in awe of each other. How beautiful we all are. We are kept from knowing our bodies. That’s why it continues to be shocking to keep talking about what it takes to have a child.

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