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Film Reviews: Babes & Hit Man

Arts Review2024-5-24By: Marc Glassman


Hot Fun in the Summertime

Babes & Hit Man

Film reviews by Marc Glassman



Pamela Adlon, director

Ilana Glazer & Joel Rabinowitz, script

Starring: Ilana Glazer (Eden), Michelle Buteau (Dawn), John Carroll Lynch (doctor), Oliver Platt (Eden’s father), Hasan Minhaj (Marty), Stephan James, Sandra Bernhard


Who thinks a comedy about pregnancy and childbirth can’t be a hit? Pregnant pause. Not this male critic. And I should add—a dad, who was present at his children’s births, and found the experiences to be challenging, messy, very emotional and life-affirming. 

Babes is a laugh-out-loud look–sometimes farcical and often very witty–at what being pregnant is like for a woman. Well, two women. We’re immediately introduced to Eden (Ilana Glazer), a yoga teacher still stuck in Astoria, Queens, who is rushing to meet her best friend Dawn (Michelle Buteau), now a highly successful Manhattan West Side dentist, and very pregnant, as the film begins. What the two experience defines the movie. 

When they meet, the two old friends try to go to a film at their favourite Greenwich Village cinema—a yearly ritual. But when that doesn’t work out because Dawn is almost ready to give birth and is making the seats wet—this is a no-holds-barred film—they attempt to have a big lunch before heading to the hospital. Naturally, that only leads to more chaos, followed by a frantic rush to the hospital, with Dawn offering comically (but realistically) timed yelps, howls, stutter steps, and crawls until she reaches a bed, where she dramatically gives birth to her second kid. Eden is there and so is Marty (a subdued but supportive Hasan Minhaj), Dawn’s husband, as the miracle of birth among the blood, sweat, and excrement (yes, it’s mentioned repeatedly) is celebrated.

Babes maintains a bright comedic pace, moving easily between wit, physicality, and emotion, throughout the film. Dawn’s birth is a precursor to the main story, Eden’s pregnancy, brought on by a romantic encounter with a handsome actor on a New York subway train, which charmingly involves sushi, Martin Scorsese, and video games. Ilana Glazer plays on our incomplete knowledge of pregnancy and contraception through a series of visits between Eden and her obstetrician (a dry and witty John Carrol Lynch), who sensitively guides her through the process of childbirth. She offers an insight into Eden’s insecurities through a bravura scene with Oliver Platt, playing her estranged dad, who says all the right things about his daughter while condemning himself for a truncated life. As Platt observes, Babes could have turned into a Nora Ephron heartening comedy at that point, but Glazer has other ideas for her film. 

Glazer doesn’t just want to explore the often untold tales of pregnancy; she also is interested in creating a compelling BFF (Best Female Friend) film. Eden and Dawn—what names! —have been besties since childhood, and their relationship is the bulwark of Babes. Buteau and Glazer, who are real life friends, though not besties, sustain the film’s comic thrust through their endlessly giving rapport. The film plays on their instant access to each other: they have no barriers between them. Much of the comedy relies on the ease with which they play off one another, whether physically or in conversation. When that rapport is questioned towards the film’s conclusion, a dramatic weight is dropped, which makes the final section of Babes that much more intriguing to watch. 

Glazer and her team–writing partner Joel Rabinowitz, Michelle Buteau, and director Pamela Adlon—have created something remarkable in Babes: a funny, unpretentious truth-telling film about friendship, love, pregnancy, and childbirth. They have figured out many ways to make people laugh—and having seen the film with a preview audience, I can attest that people absolutely enjoy it. 

It’s often said that comedy is the hardest form to create. You either make people laugh or you don’t. Success is easily discernible. What’s interesting is that Glazer and company have been able to make the film comic in so many different ways. 

It’s cleverly structured with set pieces—so important for comedy—that really work, particularly those with Eden’s obstetrician, which are truly witty, and a very funny and unsettling scene with twin sex-care workers offering tragic news in a uniquely amusing way. Physical comedy, when done well, is often hilarious and here the film excels. Scenes of the discomfort of pregnancy are well handled, from Dawn’s over-the-top journey to the hospital to Eden trying to teach a yoga class while finding it hard to digest her food. 

Babes is so good that it feels churlish to point out flaws but, of course, there are some. The relationship between Dawn and Eden is simply a “given” until it suddenly is brought into question late in the film. There is no exploration of what has made them “a family,” and, in the end, we are simply expected to be reassured that they’ll likely be besties for life. Nice—but given the acting chops of Glazer and Buteau, both of whom are so terrific in the film, a bit more would have been helpful. The same goes for Minhaj, who has the thankless role of being the endlessly supportive husband. Anyone who has seen him perform knows that he could have handled more, but that didn’t happen in this film. And, of course, not all of the comic scenes work—but then, they never do. (Not since the days of Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder anyway). 

Still, these are minor cavils. I recommend Babes highly and expect it will be a major summer hit.  


Hit Man

Richard Linklater, director & co-script w/Glen Powell

Starring: Glen Powell (Gary Johnson/Ron), Adria Arjona (Madison “Maddy” Masters), Austin Amelio (Jasper), Retta (Claudette), Sanjay Rao (police officer), Evan Holtzman (Ray Masters), Molly Bernard (Gary’s ex-wife)


There are extraordinary times in life when lightning strikes, turning something minor into a major event. When maverick director Richard Linklater began working with actor-writer Glen Powell on a quirky dramatic comedy about an undercover cop playing at being a for-hire contract killer, it’s doubtful that it seemed like a hugely commercial idea. That was before the handsome, breezy Powell was partnered with Sydney Sweeney on the rom com hit Anyone But You, which garnered over $200 million worldwide last winter. Suddenly, Hit Man has the potential to be a box office success, which couldn’t be a nicer fate for a clever dramatization of a real-life article on a Texas undercover cop, who entrapped desperate people willing to pay money to kill the person they most despised.

Linklater and Powell’s script, based on an in-depth piece by Texas journalist Skip Hollandsworth, depicts the story of Gary Johnson, a community college professor who moonlighted with the police, first as a tech geek, and then as a phony hit man, whose role was to make would-be contract employers willing to pay to kill someone, say so on tape (Johnson was always wired in advance). In one anecdote in Hollandsworth’s article, Johnson admits that he went “soft” once when the presumed contracter was an attractive woman: instead of entrapping her, he suggested that she take the money he was going to receive and flee her abusive husband.

Linklater and Powell took that story and ran with it—into a feature film with huge elements of comedy, tragedy, suspense, and, yes, sex, ladled into a tasty gumbo. First, they moved Hit Man from boring Houston to colourful New Orleans, where everything goes, including murder. Powell plays a head-in-the-clouds prof who is divorced from his wife and, really, his life, with enough time on his hands to find money and satisfaction helping the police. When Jasper, an abusive policeman, who usually plays the hit man is temporarily suspended from duty, Johnson is drafted in as his replacement and proceeds to put in a performance worthy of Olivier, easily getting someone to admit to paying him to kill his wife. Gary Johnson quickly becomes a major figure at the police station, leaving Jasper in the lurch when he finally is returned to active service.

Glen Powell gives a wonderfully shaded performance, gradually imbuing his character with confidence and attractiveness as he learns to play the role of a hit man. Powell and Linklater massage the anecdote about not accepting money from a would-be client, described in Hollandsworth’s true account of Johnson’s adventures, and turn it into an edgy romance between Madison “Maddy” Masters and “Ron,” (really Johnson) the cool potential killer. The film really takes off then, as Maddy and Ron have a passionate affair, right under the noses of the police, in particular, their frustrated rival, the underemployed Jasper. 

Then, the unexpected occurs: Maddy’s estranged husband Ray finds out about Maddy’s affair and tries to employ a hit man to kill the two of them. Of course, it’s Glen Johnson who is contracted—leaving all parties in a conundrum. Linklater and Powell have constructed a film noir, with myriad complications, but most of it takes place in the last half-hour of Hit Man. Suffice it to say that the film, which had, for over its first hour, achieved the leisurely pace of a Southern melodrama, turns into a twisty, steamy, faster paced thriller as the terrible marriage between Maddy and Ray Masters is resolved as is the jealous relationship between Jasper and his rival Glen Johnson. Audiences who enjoy twisty tales of revenge will find the plot twists fascinating—although this film critic can’t reveal them.

Linklater, Powell, and Adria Arjona, terrific as Maddy, stage an extraordinary scene, where she has to play as an angered, accused woman, fighting with her boyfriend about whether she had something to do with a murder which has taken place. What makes the scene bravura is that Arjona as Maddy, is supposed to be improvising her lines as she sees text messages shown to her by Johnson (Powell) in real time, while each knows that the police have the entire room monitored, and recorded, for sound. It’s a terrific performance and, one assumes, would have been persuasive to a police force looking for answers to multiple murders. 

Hit Man takes its time to be completely impressive, but the film gradually builds in plot, character development and tension as it reaches its end. Linklater has scored yet another success but perhaps more importantly, Glen Powell shows his “indie cred” just at the right time while Adria Arjona is outstanding as the ambiguous but very attractive Maddy. Give it your time if you can—you’ll enjoy Hit Man.



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