- Emma Simmonds
- 10 August 2020
Australian director Shannon Murphy assembles quite the cast for her coming-of-ager debut
'This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine,' sighs an exasperated mother, as she agrees to move the drug-addled object of her daughter's affection into their family home. The feature debut of director Shannon Murphy, based on the stage play by Rita Kalnejais (who adapts here for screen), Babyteeth is a film of erratic decisions, chemical dependencies and seesawing physical and mental health.
Eliza Scanlen plays Milla, an Australian teen plagued by an aggressive cancer, whose suicidal thoughts are interrupted by a brush with the sketchy but sweet Moses (Toby Wallace), a 23-year-old drug dealer, who she impulsively invites round for dinner. Her parents are certainly in no position to judge; her mother Anna (Essie Davis) is a mentally shaky prescription pill addict being kept sedated by Milla's reckless psychiatrist father Henry (Ben Mendelsohn), while he's recently become infatuated with their heavily pregnant neighbour Toby (Emily Barclay) after chastising her for smoking, and realising her dog shares his name.
It's such a desperately sad subject that films about teenage cancer sufferers tend towards the overtly sentimental. With its eccentric approach, Babyteeth is having none of that, but it almost removes the emotion altogether. It's an uncertain film tonally: there are flashes of quite broad humour and some outlandish characters, but it's never consistently funny enough to be described as a comedy; nor is it gritty or probing enough to get into discomforting dramatic territory. If it's a love story, then it's a pretty depressing one, but there's a twisted kind of appeal to that.
As you'd expect with actors of the calibre of Davis and Mendelsohn in the mix, Babyteeth is impeccably performed all round, while the woozy, radiant cinematography is a good match for the wavering, raggedly glamorous characters. And, in her odd combination of vulnerability and fearlessness, Milla represents another interesting role for versatile rising star Scanlen (Little Women, TV's Sharp Objects), playing a girl who only ever seems semi-present, who is looking forward to becoming part of the sky.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 14 Aug.