Sick-flicks make a comeback in Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, one of the indie darlings that unfortunately had to have its festival run cut short due to the pandemic. At the festivals, it was the shocking debut, the one film that critics gravitated towards for being a real breath of fresh air. As a feature-length debut for the director, it is an excellent piece of filmmaking with a distinctive visual tone and outstanding performances across the board. Babyteeth is a first-class indie drama that has one major flaw: it’s over-ambitious plot.
It feels dishonest to fixate this review so heavily on the cancer plot considering this film has dalliances with other plotlines. There’s the drug-addled older boyfriend, the doting mother on the verge of collapse, the stoic psychologist father trying to hold it all together, and a general melancholy surrounding the teenage experience all makeup Babyteeth’s core. That’s the main problem of the film, though; it’s overstuffed with other tangent plots that the film drifts along in a slow daze, floating through different vignettes as if floating in a pool. The first half of the film suffers from this the most, only sparking to life when Milla (Eliza Scanlen) pushes against the confines of her stifling family and decaying body with brief moments of rebellion. But if the film leaves her side, which it does so with shocking regularity, the film goes limp. It’s not due to a lack of compelling material for the actors, as the cast lead by Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace knocks it out of the park at every turn. Primarily it’s just a problem of the pacing and one that commits a bit too labouriously to the beauty of the source material
Being said, Babyteeth is a wonderfully bitter pill to swallow. If you can get past the eccentric rhythms, then you’re rewarded with a vibrant story that sticks in your heart long after the credits roll. With breakout leading performances from Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace, this is an indie diamond that’s a heartfelt meditation on the teenage experience through the eyes of those who seize life, no matter the cost. [B+]
Reviewed by Cassie Jo Ochoa