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Movie Reviews

Babyteeth Review

  • Director: Shannon Murphy
  • Writer: Rita Kalnejais
  • Cast: Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Emily Barclay, Eugenes Gilfedder, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn
  • Runtime: 117 min

Babyteeth is the coming-of-age story of Milla (Eliza Scanlen), a young girl battling a serious illness. She meets and quickly falls for Moses (Toby Wallace), a homeless small-time drug dealer and taker. Although it isn’t Milla’s parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn) ideal scenario, they try to support their daughter as she goes through this difficult time.

Babyteeth is the debut feature from Shannon Murphy (Killing Eve).

Babyteeth is based on a play by Rita Kalnejais, who also wrote the screenplay. Although you can sense its theatrical beginnings, Babyteeth has been successfully adapted for the screen. Kalnejais was willing to alter her play when needed in order to make for a better film, something which many can struggle to do with their own work. Additionally, Shannon Murphy’s direction has given the material flair and turned it into a cinematic experience. Specifically, Murphy uses text, music and occasionally breaks the fourth wall to give the film more energy. Babyteeth treats the audience with respect, not laying everything out immediately but rather letting the viewer understand why the characters are the way they are as the film unfolds.

A tragic comedy is perhaps the best way to describe Babyteeth. Choosing to mix subtle comedic notes with the tragic setting of a family dealing with serious illness is not the most obvious choice but one that helps sets an appropriate tone for the more uplifting moments in the film. The characters are learning to enjoy the life they have. The film is a successful merger of genres.

(L-R) Essie Davis, Toby Wallace, Eliza Scanlen, Ben Mendelsohn

The film really works because of the four leads, some of Australia’s best talents are on show. Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, The Outsider) and Essie Davis (The Babadook, Assassin’s Creed) play Milla’s parents, Henry and Anna. Their parenting style is somewhat unorthodox but their performances give credibility to their, at times, unbelievable actions. Eliza Scanlen is best known for supporting roles in Sharp Objects and Little Women but Babyteeth allows her to show off her talents in a lead role. Scanlen has to convey a lot of emotions, often through actions and expressions rather than words. Her portrayal of Milla is captivating and will hopefully set her up for many more lead roles in the future.

For his depiction of Moses, Toby Wallace (Netflix’s The Society) was the recipient of the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival awarded to the best young actor. Wallace is perhaps the least known of the central four but he holds his own alongside more established actors. He makes you empathise with a character who, on the face of it, is pretty unlikeable. The four actors have great chemistry together and it is their relationships with each other that really sells the story, even when the more farfetched plot points occur.

Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace

Babyteeth has an unpolished look, something that works for the nature of the film. The handheld camerawork draws the audience in and makes them a part of the story. In order to give the film a somewhat timeless look the filmmakers limited the use of technology on screen, something that can quickly date a film especially with regard to mobile phones. The production and costume design work well to aid in this aim and to make Babyteeth’s setting non-specific making it more relatable.

There is no formal score in Babyteeth but rather an emphasis on needle drops and the sounds of the environment. This music along with the visuals gives Babyteeth a vibrancy, perfect for a coming-of-age film, albeit one as unconventional as this.

Babyteeth is not without its flaws, some of the plot points are a little far fetched and the pacing can slow too much at times. However, for the most part it is well worth a watch. The quality of the acting and the overall look of the film are great. Shannon Murphy has proven herself as a talent to watch with Babyteeth.

Babyteeth is released in select theatres and on demand June 19 2020

Images courtesy of IFC Films

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