The heart-wrenching juxtaposition of the early embers of young love, as you look to navigate feelings that have been up to now, been quite alien to you. With the potential finality that could strike with a debilitating illness, clinging to those shreds of positivity as you fight against the tide of the worst-case scenario. Birthed on the stage. Only growing in stature and maturity on the big screen. Previously making her mark in ‘Sharp Objects’ for HBO. Eliza Scanlen’s captivating turn at the heart of Shannon Murphy’s debut feature ‘Babyteeth’ will pierce your very soul.
You’d think her own health problems would be difficult enough to handle and yet Milla (Scanlen) reluctantly stands in the middle, of the myriad of problems that are plaguing the minds of her loving parents. Seeking answers on the worries and stresses of other people through his job as a psychiatrist. It’s quite ironic that Ben Mendelsohn’s Henry struggles to find a resolution in his fragile marriage with Anna (Essie Davis), who has become increasingly reliant on medication to face the day, with both clearly hanging by the single thread that is Milla.
Unfortunately for them, they are blindsided by the cocksure drug-dealing swagger of Toby Wallace’s Moses, who is the unlikely source for reinvigorating Milla’s lust for life and almost deems her his own refuge, away from his own unhappy family home. As she succumbs to his charms and their love develops, any form of idealism from this family is emphatically thrown out the window.
With a tough well-worn subject matter that could so easily translate to an uninspired, dialled down visual palette. ‘Babyteeth’ practically bursts with vibrant colour, that is epitomised by the enchanting blue hair of its fearless lead actress, with Shannon Murphy’s approach to the story never verging on manipulative or intrusive.
Far from burdening its audience with the usual heavy helping of sequences in hospitals to provoke a strong response, Murphy constantly seeks a bracing honesty and succeeds handsomely. From the sheer awkwardness of a quick-witted dinner table scene as these characters playfully entertain each other’s concerns, to being immersed in school confines with a fellow pupil asking Milla, if she can try on her wig which attempts to mask her illness. It’s a film that shifts between sharp comedy and powerful drama with real poise.
Doing her utmost to make light of her exceptional circumstances. There is a sheer luminosity and strength that embodies Eliza Scanlen’s performance as Milla here, with every outpouring of emotion feeling authentic and raw. Contradictory in what they preach towards Milla. Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis as her parents are outstanding in articulating the irrationality of the situation, whilst recognising the introduction of Moses may just be the comfort Milla has been craving with Toby Wallace, making light work of creating great empathy for a figure whose morals in the initial stages are rather questionable.
Complete with a poignant conclusion that left me a teary mess, Shannon Murphy’s ‘Babyteeth’ is an exceptional directorial debut.
Directed by: Shannon Murphy
Written by: Rita Kalnejais
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis, Emily Barclay, Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace