Last fall, I was entranced by a trailer for a forthcoming documentary, Babies, and that film will be in theaters tomorrow. In the Focus Features film, director Thomas Balmès follows four babies in various places around the world: “Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco,” according to the film’s web site.
The film is rated PG “for cultural and maternal nudity throughout,” which is impressive considering that the MPAA will give a G to a film with someone’s head being torn off by a bulldozer and an R if someone says “fuck” twice in a sexual context. But I digress.
The trailer still makes me laugh, but I’m not quite sure I’ll go see it in a theater, because the consensus among critics seems to be that it’s a bit, well, boring. Rotten Tomatoes has a 66 percent fresh rating, while Metacritic’s score is just a 59. On the bad side, The Onion AV Club’s Scott Tobias says “this thumb-sucking Koyaanisqatsi is neither poetic nor behaviorally fascinating enough to justify the experiment,” while The Village Voice’s Dan Kois asks, “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.” (Kois also has an alternate review that makes his point in a different way.)
But Roger Ebert loves it, although as usual, he describes more than argues, ending up with just, “Just babies. Wonderful.” Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman gives a more explanatory positive review, and although it’s one of the two-highest rated reviews on Metacritic, it’s only a B. He praises a scene that is “like watching the dawn of consciousness in two minutes,” but says that “Babies, without falsifying its subject, could have used a more soul-stirring sense of showbiz — that is, a riper display of infantile special effects.”