As we’ve started to become accustomed to our new normal, cinemas have begun – at least in the UK, Europe and Eastern regions – to re-open its doors and allow us to enjoy one of our favourite pastimes. Ironically, during lockdown, we’ve had a plethora of films that may have slipped in and out of cinemas on theatrical release, have helped keep us sane and have been telling us stories of life and all its intricacies and those things we take for granted.
Shannon Murphy’s charming, heartfelt coming-of-age dramedy (another theme in many films during our time at home) tells of our struggles with disease, death and family, subjects we have all been reflecting on recently. We first meet Milla (Eliza Scanlen) standing at a train platform waiting to head to school before being ferociously bumped towards the tracks by Moses (Toby Wallace), a local drug dealer who Milla soon falls for hard. Trying to embrace life as she deals with cancer, she immediately brings Moses back to meet her dysfunctional parents (Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis) and an almost screwball comedy ensues as all four find a strange solace in each other despite their multiple flaws and demons.
What’s evident immediately from Murphy’s film is its intimacy and raw, unforgiving narrative doesn’t shy away from the strains and hostilities that come from dealing with an unprecedented scenario such as this. But it is in those moments when the film soars the highest, allowing its characters to be presented warts and all as they deal with mood swings, lies and truths and the impending heartbreak that awaits them all in various guises. Murphy’s camera is a close-up spectator, putting us slap bang in the middle of the unraveling stories – most take place in Milla’s house – and allowing us an almost voyeur peek behind the curtains.
Trust us, there will be tears through this one but for every one shed in pain, there is one for joy and for some levity throughout, with Scanlen’s wondrous, joyful central turn the film’s trump card: without her, it would fall well short. Davis and Mendelsohn are, as ever, exemplary as is Wallace whose muted yet blistering performance balances everything beautifully. It’s a cavalcade of sensational acting and, with award season possibly looking a little different this year, all the academies could do worse than lavish prizes on this quartet and their director.
There are a few bumps in the road as some of the narrative strands that raise intrigue in the opening act peeter away to nothing which is somewhat of a shame, but the focus is always on the foursome, whether they are. Those aside, Babyteeth is one of the shining lights in this weird, life-changing year of 2020 and its virtues should be held up as high as possible, for it is a marvellous little gem.