Movie Review: Babyteeth
One distinct tactic the modern, independent drama is now having to tactfully employ, is the inability to move away from the A24 banner. Try as they might, they cannot escape the vacuum, and we have been taken along for the rise. Yes, you, the reader, have been thrown into this black hole too. Accept it. It’s too late to change it. As much as A24 are providers of solid quality, an inevitable by-product is its immediate influence. Copycats are sure to follow, and that is, to an extent, what Babyteeth feels like. Idiosyncratic characters mutter chirpy, strange dialogue all to the backdrop of a tragedy, throwing all semblance of contrast out the window with a sickly, bright colour palette and variety of characters who try their best to support feeble source material.
Some moments do feel inspired, that does appear to be the most frustrating aspect of Babyteeth. Shannon Murphy provides solid enough direction, her craft here is just mired by the oddities of editing and the forced shtick of outlandish whimsy. When Murphy can get this feeling under control, her product is something more akin to the relatively harmless drama you can always expect from this genre. Reliable, and at the very least decent enough to carry its cast through a wave of relatively similar films. Eliza Scanlen and Ben Mendelsohn are the clear standouts here, they turn rather vague or boring premises into pockets of well-acted fun.
But that is where Babyteeth and the many problems it holds within it fester from. It does not push the narrative envelope far enough, falling back on the tried and tested tropes of the independent drama. Knowing who it will appeal to most, Babyteeth encloses itself in a case of eccentricities that are a match for the limited audience appeal, but failing to reach beyond that is a detriment that will cap Babyteeth at its set limit of inspiration. Chapter breakdowns, floating camerawork, and a general sense that the film is not quite engaged with anything it wishes to present. It all comes together in an incredibly predictable, forgettable fashion. There is no value to a rewatch, but there are small moments that observe the trend of independent freedom. Far from the bowels of wretched studio interference, but Murphy is able to instil the set of traditional, modern values every independent rush demands.
A film that has relatively flatlining characters makes for a difficult rift between audience and intention. Babyteeth is by no means a poor project, it just has general assumptions and targets a specific pocket of viewer. No doubt, it will manage to scurry its way into the open embrace of this niche, but it may leave some of us out there feeling a tad alienated or even just a bit punctured. A thick sheen of neon lighting and overexposed thematics of the modern drama, Babyteeth does little to set itself out from the norm that it so clearly wants to cling to, as either a safety blanket or a draw for their faux quirkiness and spiteful, blank characters.