Cinema Review: Babyteeth | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, January 20th, 2021  


Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Shannon Murphy

Jun 18, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Shannon Murphy’s debut is an oddball romance too wrapped up in its own quirks to handle its tale of life and death.

In the opening scene first-time director Shannon Murphy establishes a philosophy for a different way of living. Caution thrown to the wind, taking life by the horns and doing what it is you want before it’s too late. It’s a gutsy approach, one that twists the film into finding a way to adjust to this unpalatable reality.

Seriously ill 16-year-old Milla (Eliza Scalen) has just met Moses (Toby Wallace), an edgy looking tearaway seven years her senior. When Milla brings Moses home as a “guest”, her parents Anna and Henry (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn) are concerned as to why Moses would be hanging around with a teenage girl. In stark contrast to the family's bourgeois surroundings, Moses is a rough and not-so-ready shaggy dog, irritable and erratic. The mullet-bearing (staple of any Australian bad-boy), pepper-sprayed looking young man is unbalanced and dysfunctional, a seemingly unhealthy presence around one’s ill daughter.

Early on Babyteeth tries to establish itself as uncaged and wiley. Milla’s quirks and rebelliousness, Moses’ unpredictability, Anna and Henry’s fractious relationship, all elements that the film seems to suggest might make for some craaaazy viewing. Unfortunately, though let off the chain, there’s very little to make you feel like you’re ever in danger. It feels more like a tropical bird awkwardly flapping its wings too close to you rather than a tiger on its way to maim or kill.

As time goes on Milla’s parents gradually come to terms with the benefits of Moses’ palliative presence. His layabout hedonism brings about a change in Milla’s attitude that makes for a more pleasurable existence, a freeing from her repressive environment. Their relationship doesn’t come without its own ups and downs, though, and the two try to balance the bitterly heady cocktail of Moses’ drug dependence and Milla’s sickness. The crux of the relationship lies in Milla’s lovestruck enthusiasm against Moses’ potentially exploitative position within the duo. Again, this distrust and uncertainty isn’t something that ever feels truly threatening. With the film’s twee idiosyncrasies, brightly-colored title cards and squeaky-clean visuals the sense of dread, of impending death or heartbreak, only seems to vanish under a sentimentalism barely worth caring about.

Another quirk of the film is the fourth wall break. On several occasions Milla turns to her audience to assert some kind of mutual understanding between us. The two glaring inconsistencies here being that this device fetters away after only an hour and that we don’t have Milla’s perspective enough for this to work. The film shares perspectives between the four main characters, leaving the fourth wall breaks to feel like unwanted intrusions. We are never close enough, or allowed to access Milla’s deepest feelings enough for her entrance into our domain to be anything more than an encroachment.

Babyteeth is not without its qualities. Murphy shows a great deal of assurance on her debut and she’s certainly established her style with confidence. Unfortunately, it’s a confidence that seems wasted on a soppiness and mildly irritating off-the-wall take on life and death. It spends so much of its time authoring its peculiarities that it doesn’t hammer home the consequences taking place. It’s bold and even daring at times, but it relies too heavily on presenting as an oddity to highlight the gravity it’s weighed itself down with.



Author rating: 4.5/10

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