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"Babies" is pretty much straight babies, all the way through 

Wednesday, May 5 2010
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Did I say "Awww" at Babies? I did. Did I giggle at the adorable things babies do in Babies? Oh my, yes. Did I ovulate about a dozen times during Babies? You better believe it. Is Babies a good movie? Of course not. But that's missing the point — like asking if a porn video is a good movie. Babies gets the job done.

A canny exercise in feature-length YouTube, Babies follows four international infants from birth to toddling. (Although, in a wise move, director Thomas Balmes zips through the first three months, in which a baby is little more than a shitting meatloaf.) Cutting from rural Mongolia to Tokyo and from the Namibian desert to San Francisco, Balmes shows us Bayar, Mari, Ponijao, and Hattie as they nurse, sleep, poop, eat, crawl, and play.

Alternating between warm close-ups of babies' faces and long, static medium shots of the babies occupying themselves alone, Balmes' cameras — reportedly shooting for 400 days — capture plenty of memorable footage. Bayar is a particular star, a sort of Mongolian Ben Stiller who endures countless indignities at the hands of his mischievous older brother, a yurt-invading rooster, and a thirsty goat. (The audience also loved it when he peed all over himself.) The other babies have their moments, too, including Mari's epic diva fit that has her dramatically falling on the floor in disbelief at the unfairness of Tokyo playroom life.

Other than the passage of time, there's not much of an organizing principle to Babies, which makes it feel awfully long even at a mere 79 minutes. Occasionally, we'll see all four babies, say, getting washed, but mostly, we just flit from place to place, accompanied by some peppy Putumayo-esque pop. This makes it easy to determine who will like Babies. If you're expecting a baby, you'll like Babies. If you once had a baby who is now grown, you'll like Babies. If you have a baby right now, you would like Babies, although, obviously, you'll never be able to leave the house to see it.

Now: If you can't stand, fear, don't get, or are immune to the charms of babies, you will not like Babies. If forced into the movie, you'd be better served to watch the couples around you. Make a parlor game out of it! For some delighted couples whose nesting instincts are already kicking in, the movie's roly-poly infants will serve as fertility treatments. But for other couples whose biological clocks remain unsynched, the shrieking moppets onscreen might function as effective birth control — if not outright relationship killers.

Babies offers little in the way of context. It's pretty much just straight-up babies, all the way through. Adult dialogue is untranslated, and parents mostly hover just on the edges of the frame. Balmes gets a little mileage out of the disparity between Namibian Ponijao lying in the dirt, sticking bones in her mouth, and white Hattie singing Native American chants in her San Francisco music class. But for the most part, the strength of Babies is the way it babies babies babies babies babies universality babies babies babies, babies babies babies miracle babies babies.

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Dan Kois

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