Babyteeth [2019]: ‘MAMI’ Review – A Hysterical Dodge to Conventional Cancer-Tropes

Babyteeth Movie

Babyteeth Movie Review: In the first few minutes of Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy’s fantastic feature-length debut, we meet Milla (Eliza Scanlen) and Moses (Toby Wallace). The crush that Milla develops on Moses comes straight out of rebellion. She obviously doesn’t want to get stuck in a vacuum. As we meet more people in ‘Babyteeth’  – A deranged, hysterical cancer rom-com, we get a sense of sadness that prevails each one of them. They are all desperate to come out of whatever hell-hole they have formed inside their heads.

Murphy’s teenage protagonist is cancer-stricken. Falling in love at this stage is one of those conventional, teary tropes that have trickled into the indie circuit too. However, every once in awhile a filmmaker dares to challenge the very notion of these conventions. Murphy’s film does exactly that. Wherein, her all-female production team, and a superb cast rope into a scattershot, vivid, funny and deeply affection group portrait of people trying to get out of the shell that makes them feel hollow all the time. It’s a family drama that treads the fine line between sentimentality and edgy coming of age shenanigans.

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Helped by a cast that fits right into the characterization they are put into, Murphy’s directorial debut is brimming with a ferocious energy that dances to old Mozart tunes and lands on the ground with a strange realization of how people react to change around them. Murphy pleasantly paces her film according to Mila’s attuned illness and her turns hurrying towards the end. The good days and relapses are punctuated by the parents trying to keep up with the daughter’s sudden interest in a drug junky and their own messed up existence.

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Cutely broken into candy-colored chapters, Babyteeth is the kind of coming of age film that doesn’t necessarily fit into the usual cutesy stuff that the genre usually offers.  Milla is not slated as a woman trying to achieve something before she goes off to sleep. This is a tale of a young girl’s desire. Her urge to feel as much as she can before life kicks in her bucket list and erases her memories. This is a brave film about a girl wanting to let her guard down by embracing her imperfections because she can never really be someone people want her to be.

It’s a perfect movie to bait people who are into tearjerkers. But to my pleasant surprise, the film is clever enough to seize Milla’s ecstasy and excitement to live them days dancing to her tunes. Murphy’s choice to connect her and disconnect her from the disturbed mother through music is a complete masterstroke. There is a part of the film where she shaves her head off. It is cleverly coupled with the parents trying to not judge her for her choices. The mutual depression that Murphy experiences through her lens makes Babyteeth even more grounded and relevant than it already is.

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The writing by Rita Kalnejais is brilliant. The whole idea of letting the entire thing be around music, desire and the urge to live an out of body experience makes Babyteeth feel fresher. Props to her for being able to device a character so readily ambiguous yet so empathetic and real. There are times when there are a few heavy-handed sequences that borderline cynicism but they are only a few of those.

There are a few too many things that break in Shanon Murphy’s Babyteeth. One of them is certainly your heart.



Babyteeth Movie Trailer

DIRECTOR: Shannon Murphy
COUNTRY: Australia

Shikhar Verma

Getting fat with the wife. Absolutely loves the all-consuming, indulgent world of cinema.