It’s hard not to love babies. Their gurgling coos and drooling little faces are inexplicably irresistible. Especially to mothers, who dote on their red-faced spawn with unwavering adoration. And “Babies” — delivered in a timely fashion for Mother’s Day — plays on that matronly affection which the film’s target demographic possesses.
At the Michigan
The documentary follows the first year in the lives of four infants from four corners of the world. Ponijao lives in Namibia in a small village with numerous siblings. Mari lives in Japan in a cosmopolitan setting as an only child. Bayarjargal (nicknamed “Bayar”) lives in Mongolia on a farm with his nuclear family, and Hattie lives in California with her Bohemian, eco-friendly parents. But while all four infants come from extremely diverse backgrounds, they’re unified through common experiences in their first year growing up.
The film presents its protagonists from a baby’s-eye view, while audience members, consequently, are taken step-by-step through the different stages of each child’s life with a limited perspective that makes viewers identify and sympathize with the babies. Adults in this documentary are merely shadowy, auxiliary characters. Audience members, in a sense, become babies through the low-angle, baby-centric view that filmmaker Thomas Balmes takes. But unless you’re an actual baby (and if you’re reading this review you certainly aren’t) the experience can get frustrating.
As expected, the documentary is little more than a fluff piece, uniting different cultures by painting unrealistic portrayals of happy families through rose-colored lenses. Struggles of abject poverty are trivialized, minimalized or done away with completely. While the documentary has some moments that could make even the most cynical (and childless) of film watchers’ hearts soften, the perpetually forced, cutesy nature of the film is eventually cloying. So unless you’re gaga for babies, this 90-minute homage to them can be a dear price to pay.