Overly reliant on metaphorical contrivance and signaled emotionality, Babyteeth fails to transcend its archetypal narrative.
An unadorned tale of woe, grief, angst, love, mortality, and familial hardship, Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth struggles to create any sense of cohesiveness in either theme or narrative through-line. Haphazardly oscillating between off-kilter quirk and stilted emotionality, it fumbles in its attempts at both poignancy and sincerity. Eliza Scanlen plays Milla, a 16-year-old whose cancer recurrence sends her and her parents spiralling into social collapse. As the affairs of each family member become increasingly knotted, every scripted gesture unfolds in relation to some crux purpose, which is eventually revealed to be a rather dimensionless construct. In the first half of the film, a rather transparent veil of sardonic eccentricity hangs over each casual family interaction. But once the characters are forced to reckon with the fact that Milla is headed for an early grave, Babyteeth heads into more discomfiting territory. This earnest attempt, though, is blunted by the film’s archetypal narrative. Murphy’s haphazard control of the story’s mechanisms obscures any gestures towards finely articulated sentiment: unnecessary chapter titles explicate already obvious story movements; brief formal flourishes suggest complex interior states that the larger plot structure simply cannot support; and then the climax, most damningly, uses a series of metaphorical contrivances to arrive at a kind of false catharsis. Each step towards the coda is inundated by a plethora of superficially symbolic moments, all of which serve only to justify the film’s plot trajectory.
Published as part of June 2020’s Before We Vanish.