Eliza Scanlen lights up the screen as Milla in Shannon Murphy’s impressive debut feature “Babyteeth”
Australian director Shannon Murphy delivers a devastating but hopeful tragicomedy with her first feature film.
Acclaimed as one of the breakout films of last year’s Venice festival, “Babyteeth” features shooting star Eliza Scanlen (most recently seen as Beth March in “Little Women”) as rebellious suburban teenager Milla, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We soon discover that her recalcitrance is probably not the fault of the disease but stems from a dysfunctional family environment. Father Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a psychiatrist who is in love with a pregnant neighbor. Mother Anna (Essie Davis) is hooked on sedatives
But when Milla, just 16, falls for the local bad boy Moses (Toby Wallace), her parents try to control their disapproval, which they both know through their own experience would, of course, would push Milla even more into the arms of the older delinquent.
Murphy and her scriptwriter Rita Kalnejais manage to bring a freshness to all too familiar material--we immediately think of the adaptation of John Green’s novel “The Fault In Our Stars” that launched Shailene Woodley’s career. The authenticity is underlined by focusing on the intimate relationships between the four main characters--this is a drama, with elements of biting black comedy, about family rather than about a terminally sick teenager. As a coming of age movie, the protagonist has a lifespan that is cruelly limited.
Watch the trailer to “Babyteeth”:
The acting is superb throughout, with Scanlen lighting up the screen with her nfectious smile and passion for dance. Mendelsohn is irrepressible as always and never fails to deliver a performance that is perfectly measured. Davis finely balances tragic desperation so that the audience is never sure whether to root for the loving mother or treat with disdain the hypocritical drug user. Wallace shows Moses to be the sort of troublingly scallywag who can charm his way into anyone’s heart. That he does so with Milla, despite her terminal prognosis, speaks volumes and is what makes this debut feature so invigorating. That she falls so deeply for him, genuinely and not clutching at straws, is heartbreaking. Scanlen is totally convincing and together with Murphy shows promise of a brilliant career.
The film is in competition for the Grand Prix by Orange at the Luxembourg City Film Festival.
Delano will pick a film of the day from the programme every day throughout the Lux Film Fest. Duncan Roberts is a member of the festival’s selection committee.