The film literally opens with the image of a babytooth slowly sinking to the bottom of a glass full of water. A shot that comes back in the final ten minutes of the film, translating to the protagonist’s loss of innocence and so much more. Babyteeth tackles a range of weighty subjects, and how this one family deals with them.
The Finlay family thrives on chaos, while living a rather comfortable life in the suburbs of Sydney. When Milla (Eliza Scanlen – Little Women) falls madly in love with Moses (Toby Wallace – The Society), it’s her overprotective parents’ worst nightmare. Anna (Essie Davis – Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears) and Henry’s (Ben Mendelsohn – The King) daughter is terminally ill and the last thing they want is for her to hang out with a smalltime drug dealer. When things seem to get more serious, and Milla hangs out with Moses far out of her parent’s sight, it becomes clear Anna and Henry have their own set of problems. With nothing to lose, Milla inspires those around her, exploring the lengths we’d go for love, or at least to feel alive when everything seems to spiral out of control.
Shannon Murphy‘s (Killing Eve) first full length feature film balances mental illness, addiction, age-inappropriate romance, lust and terminal disease. Not an easy feat with such serious subjects, but Rita Kalnejais‘ (Surge) screenplay finds a way to weave situations in a way it all comes together so it doesn’t seem like just a series of events. With chapter titles hinting at what’s to come, Babyteeth keeps an even pace, without ever coming across any unexpected hurdles, and even although the second act feels a bit repetitive, it feels worthy when finally reaching that emotional-bittersweet-tearjerker-ending.
Murphy isn’t afraid to use lots of colour and music in her film, which isn’t something you easily find in most coming-of-age dramas with such a devastating outcome. Her creative way of film making is audacious, and that’s something to celebrate. International cinema keeps rising above typical Hollywood productions by telling unique stories that don’t feel rehashed. With Babyteeth, Murphy and writer Kalnejais catapult themselves to the top of Australian new talent we should keep an eye out for.
Eliza Scanlen’s carefree performance expands her role in ‘Little Women’, while accepting her fate in a rather stoic way. Her mostly expressionless face makes it quite hard to look behind the facade Milla sets up, to hide the pain that lingers deep inside her. Mendelsohn and Davis both play the house down in their respective roles, which can be expected from these talented actors, but it’s Toby Wallace who impresses the most. Covered in tattoos (they’re fake FYI) and looking quite shabby, Wallace exudes a certain type of energy that infects the entire main cast. Just like with his character Moses, everyone around him sort of has to pay a toll that was long overdue. Moses is troubled, because of his own messed up family, and Wallace channels that desperate need for attention by taking it up a notch with every new scene he’s in.
What seems like your typical sappy teen-flick, is much more than that. Babyteeth is about a dysfunctional family trying to keep its heart from taking that final beat. A coming-of-age story that isn’t one, thanks to some meticulous film making, distancing itself from the typical genre tropes.
Review – ‘Babyteeth’
Reviewed online, July 25, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 118 min.
PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release of a Screen Australia presentation in association with Create NSW, Spectrum Films, Weiranderson.com, Jan Chapman Films of a Whitefalk Films production. Producer: Alex White. Executive producer: Jan Chapman.
CREW: Director: Shannon Murphy. Screenplay: Rita Kalnejais. Camera: Andrew Commis. Editor: Steve Evans. Music: Amanda Brown.
WITH: Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, Michelle Lotters, Zack Grech, Georgina Symes, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder, Charles Grounds.