Toronto legit helmer and TV writer Jack Blum makes his feature debut with “Babyface,” a pic about a seriously dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. This explosive yarn, centering on an oversexed single mom, her very confused 13-year-old daughter and their shared boyfriend, is an uneven take on a difficult subject, and the film lacks the nuance such a story cries out for. “Babyface” will likely be a tough sell internationally.
Blum and co-scripter Sharon Corder take a less-than-inspired, relatively straightforward approach to the tale, lending it little depth. Tackling such tough material necessarily raises the artistic bar, and this particularly problematic storyline easily could have veered into exploitation turf or bland telepic territory. Blum avoids both pitfalls, occasionally hitting the right emotional notes. But many moments ring false, perhaps most tellingly in the final reel.
“Lolita”-esque tone of the piece is set in the first moments, when the blond, innocent-looking Lisa (Elisabeth Rosen) flirts openly with the school bus driver. Lisa’s wide-eyed schoolgirl persona is emphasized even further in an early scene showing her praying to God in her bedroom. Her mother, Margaret (Lenore Zann), is not quite so innocent. She works in a Laundromat and spends most of her free time boozing, chasing guys and generally partying like a wild, horny teenager.
Margaret kicks off a steamy affair with the much younger Jim (James Gallanders), a taciturn, mild-mannered fellow who is enthralled and more than a little overwhelmed by Margaret’s sexual appetite. Lisa has been living for several months at Margaret’s sister’s house, but she moves back in with her mother shortly after Jim arrives on the scene. This not-so-happy family unit turns downright psycho when Margaret forces her daughter to take off her shirt in front of Jim.
Before you can say “Humbert Humbert,” Jim is getting it on with the daughter as well. He tries, unsuccessfully, to dump Margaret and concentrate on Lisa, who is trapped somewhere between childhood naivete and full-blown adult sexuality. Carrying on affairs with both of them at the same time is clearly not the best of ideas, and confirms that Jim is not the brightest guy in class.
The keep-it-in-the-family love triangle has predictably disastrous results, and the brutal finale is neither surprising nor particularly effective. One of the strengths of Blum’s direction is his ability to create a convincing snapshot of low-rent suburban life, something not seen that often in Canadian cinema. But Blum and Corder’s script is short on subtlety; pic would have benefited from some significant fleshing out of the three lead characters.
Rosen is the best of the thesps, giving an intriguing perf that admirably captures the complex and terribly conflicted teenage girl at the center of the psy-chodrama. Zann is good, too, making the sexy, often-hysterical Margaret seem quite believable. But Gallanders is much less satisfying as Jim, coming across as a nearly empty shell of a personality. That may be partly due to the script, but at any rate, it weakens the impact of the pic.
Lensing by Harald Bachmann gives film suitably gritty, no-frills look, while Donald Quan’s score leans toward the minimalist.