Review by Sean Boelman
An unabashedly spirited feature debut from director Shannon Murphy, the new dramedy Babyteeth infuses a much-needed sense of energy into a genre that is too frequently devoid of life. Unexpectedly lovable, this indie gem is one that will hopefully be more than just a blip on the radar.
The film follows a young girl battling a serious illness as she falls in love with a charming but manipulative drug dealer to the dismay of her parents, rekindling a lust for life within all of them. On paper, it seems like it’s going to be a run-of-the-mill sick kid drama, but it becomes clear from the first scene that Murphy and writer Rita Kalnejais have something much more interesting in mind.
What makes this stand out among coming-of-age movies is that, instead of the character not having to grow up because of a limited life expectancy, she has already matured with the realization that she is in the later years of her life. It’s an interesting perspective on tragedy, and it comes from a very sincere place.
The relationship that forms between the protagonist in her love interest is always compelling but also often heartbreaking. Still, Kalnejais doesn’t resort to many of the manipulative emotional tactics that have come to define films like this. It earns every bit of emotion it gets thanks to the audience’s investment in the characters.
Eliza Scanlen is absolutely amazing here. Those who thought she gave a good performance in Gerwig’s Little Women will be blown away by her talents on display in this movie. She’s hilarious when the script calls for it, but more often than not, she brings a ton of heart and emotion to the role.
Admittedly, there could have been a bit more depth in relation to the protagonist’s parents — there are some subplots there that have the potential to be extremely interesting — but regardless, Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis both give phenomenal performances. Mendelsohn is particularly impressive, cementing him as one of the best character actors of this generation.
Visually, Murphy’s film is definitely very stylistic. There’s a bit of a bright glow to it that, while never aggressive or overwhelming, shows that Murphy is an exciting talent behind the camera. The soundtrack is perhaps the single best part of the execution, setting a great emotional backdrop for the story.
Although one may not initially expect a movie about an ill teenager to be thoroughly enjoyable, Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth fulfills that unexpected niche. It’s a nuanced and human look at a weighty topic that manages to be entertaining in the process.
Babyteeth hits theaters and VOD on June 19.