Australasian Cinema > films > Babyteeth


Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy, 2020) wr. Rita Kalnejas from her play, prod. Alex White, dp Andrew Commis; Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis, Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Emily Barclay; family drama; Venice; Oz release 23July; won all the awards at the 2020 AACTAs because so few films were in competition.
Murphy has directed quite a bit for TV. This is her first feature. She is married to Dan Wyllie.

When seriously ill teenager Milla falls madly in love with smalltime drug dealer Moses, it's her parents' worst nightmare. But as Milla's first brush with love brings her a new lust for life, things get messy and traditional morals go out the window. Milla soon shows everyone in her orbit - her parents, Moses, a sensitive music teacher, a budding child violinist, and a disarmingly honest pregnant neighbour - how to live like you have nothing to lose. What might have been a disaster for the Finlay family instead leads to letting go and finding grace in the glorious chaos of life. Babyteeth joyously explores how good it is not to be dead yet and how far we will go for love.

I didn't believe any of this - from the outset. A conventional-looking schoolgirl - in uniform - meets a disgusting guy with a radical hair-shave and tatts all over - and falls for him immediately. As if.
Her father is a psychiatrist - played by Ben Mendelsohn. Ben has built an entire career and well-deserved reputation based on characters who are 'working-class' and sometimes criminals - and he is completely unconvincing as a professional man.
Her mother is played by Essie Davis, who is (almost) always gorgeous, with a special incandescence that is her characteristic. Here, it's as if the cameraman has deliberately lit her in the most unattractive way possible. She looks dowdy, aging, and is also unconvincing.
Summary: a solid story, but badly cast, shot, and directed.

Screen Daily’s Lee Marshall hailed the film as a “funny, affecting, comedy-tinged family drama” that will appeal to audiences in the market for a small, irreverent feelgood film that wears its art house credentials on its sleeve.

Marshall lauded Scanlen’s mixture of self-sufficient strength and willful contrariness that keeps flickering into vulnerability and despair, Wallis’ ability to switch between selfishness and sensitivity, and found Mendelsohn in what might be his best performance since Animal Kingdom and Davis utterly convincing as a couple both deeply in love and deeply divided.

Variety’s Guy Lodge greeted Babyteeth as the most youthful and surprising entry in this year’s Venice competition, which begins as a brittly amusing broken-family comedy before kicking into a richer, less guarded storytelling gear, leading to a “tear-stained stunner of a final act.”

Lodge advised the Hollywood studios that still make adult drama to make a beeline for Murphy, who is about to direct two episodes of the third season of BBC America’s Killing Eve.

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich declared Murphy’s “primal and surefooted debut never falls into either mawkishness or sadism,” observing: “It keeps you on your toes from the moment it starts, brings together a winsome but wounded group of people who are all struggling to slay the ‘tiny gods’ in their heads, and then forces them through an ordeal that might just break their hearts. And yours.”

Sight & Sound's David Opie liked it: "This makes Babyteeth a tough one to categorise and the film’s better for it. Far more than a ‘terminal illness’ movie or even a typical coming of age story, Murphy’s debut captures the humanity of suffering while resisting the need for sentiment or mawkish pandering. While it certainly helps that the screenplay is by original playwright Rita Kalnejais, nuanced performances across the board further elevate her astute script."

References and Links

Groves, Don 2019, 'Shannon Murphy's Babyteeth vows the critics in Venice', All quotations above come from this article, except the last.

Garry Gillard | New: 6 September, 2019 | Now: 5 December, 2020