By Lara Gissing | Drama
A country music star tries to make a comeback after giving up her career for a family.

Jess is a former country music star, who rose to fame as a young teen awhile ago. Now, she is a single mother and has decided to embark on a comeback after a 15-year hiatus after giving up her career for her family.

She’s playing small bars and local events again and trying to make inroads within the industry. But starting over is harder than ever, especially trying to balance being a mom with her music aspirations — and haunted by her past in more ways than one.

Set amidst the world of Australian country music, writer-director Lara Gissing’s sensitive, warmly empathetic short drama is naturally full of music and performance, but it’s also a snapshot of someone trying to find their way back to themselves after a long detour, as well as the pleasures and difficulties of single parenting.

The storytelling and writing are rich with beautiful details, even within its muted naturalistic approach. The visuals have an almost documentary eye for telling details and the script and editing capture the small tensions and pressures pulling at Jess, whether it’s the constant interruptions even as she’s brushing her teeth or the small battles arising on the horizon as one of her daughters enters her early teenage years.

Yet there’s also clearly a lot of love between Jess and her daughters as well, and the result is a matter-of-fact, fully dimensional portrait of Jess’s life. Actor Bella Merrington plays Jess not just with an expressive, earthy singing voice, but with keen precision and clarity for the multiple emotions pulling at Jess and the flickers of her former, more free-spirited self begins to come alive as she re-enters the music scene.

Her Jess is a wonderfully fleshed out character, even in the short narrative format, and as she confronts the collision of her past with her aspirations for the future, it’s not hard to feel for her tiny yet palpable heartbreak at a pivotal moment — and admire her for the strength she exhibits in being strong for her girls afterward.

The sense of drama and conflict in “Babygirl” isn’t found in overt character clashes or dueling desires, but often in its main character’s need to suppress or delay her rawer, palpable emotions and self to assume her role of mother and co-parent.

In several ways, “Babygirl” isn’t just a lovely detour into a music scene we don’t often see in film, but a portrait of the quiet everyday heroism of a parent trying her best to give her children the solidity and stability they need, even if the feelings under her own surface are roiling and tumultuous. It unfurls at first in an unobtrusive, even modest way, but its emotional impact at the end is as haunting as a plaintive melody.

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