Shannon Murphy had an ambitious goal for her debut feature, Babyteeth: “I really wanted it to get into people’s bones.”
She succeeded. The new film, based on a play by Rita Kalnejais, who also wrote the script, follows an Australian family going through intense struggles they try desperately to keep at a distance. The film follows Milla, a seriously ill teenager played by Eliza Scanlen, who falls for a magnetic small-time drug dealer named Moses, played by Toby Wallace.
Her parents, played by Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn, are understandably concerned. But they’re also balancing their desire for her to live the most normal life possible, in spite of her illness.
Murphy said she was drawn by the unpredictability of Kalnejais’ script.
“I knew that I was never ahead of the story, which I loved, and any time I thought I knew where it was going, she subverted my expectations,” Murphy said. “You think you know what’s going to come and then it doesn’t.”
You can also just listen here (there are no spoilers):
Murphy talks with us about how she assembled her excellent cast — starting with how Ben Mendelsohn won her over by dancing to the Sia song “Breathe Me.” She also talks about how Scanlen got the part after — but not because of — a chance encounter between her and Wallace at a party, where they had mutual friends.
Murphy also talks about why Australia has coped well with the threat of COVID-19, during a week when Americans are arguing about whether we need to wear masks to movie theaters.
The film, which premiered last fall at the Venice Film Festival, holds a 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Babyteeth, directed by Shannon Murphy, is now streaming.