When a film has Ben Mendelsohn, you know it is going to be good. It doesn’t matter what it is. Famed film critic Roger Ebert had a rule that no film with Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmett Walsh can be altogether bad, and I would confidently add Mendelsohn to that theory. This challenging and moving debut from filmmaker Shannon Murphy, however, is truly fantastic in its own right – Mendelsohn is just a bonus.
The “terminally ill lovestruck youth” subgenre is certainly becoming something of a crowd, but Murphy’s Babyteeth manages to inject something fresh and powerful into proceedings with this keenly observed and quietly understated tale of a family dealing with the illness. The illness, however, is more-so a backdrop for the fantastically fleshed-out characters to develop. Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is battling the illness as a romance blossoms between her and drug dealer Moses (Toby Wallace), while her parents – incredibly performed by Mendelsohn and Essie Davis – are falling apart. Each of the characters at the core of the film are so wonderfully explored thanks to the nuanced performances and Rita Kalnejais’ screenplay that we really feel that we know each of them, quirks and all.
Beautifully shot with an intimate indie sensibility, the film is beautifully quirky in its delivery complete with on-screen chapter titles and a wonderful use of light and colour thanks to Andrew Commis’ cinematography. The film might be 20 minutes too long; some scenes certainly drag a little while there is arguably a bit of repetition with regards to its plot points. But the overall feeling is a charming and poignant film, with a powerful final scene that offers as happy an ending as these films can.
Tissues at the ready. Babyteeth is certainly a powerful and tear-jerking experience, but one that offers laughter and love in abundance. It is a wonderful film.
Babyteeth is one of the finest films out of Australia in years, fronted by four flawless performances.