Returning to the cinemas has been a rare and welcomed experience for us this year, and any time we get the chance to experience a piece of cinema up on the big screen we’ve been very grateful for it. And watching Babyteeth is one of those experience.
What might have been a disaster for the Finlay family leads to letting go and finding grace in the glorious chaos of life. When seriously ill teenager Milla (Eliza Scanlon – HBO’s Sharp Objects, the upcoming Little Women) falls madly in love with a smalltime drug dealer, Moses (Toby Wallace – Romper Stomper), it’s her protective parents’ (Ben Mendelsohn – Captain Marvel / Essie Davis – The Babadook) worst nightmare. Things get messy and morals go out the window as the lives of those around the family: a sensitive music teacher, a budding child violinist, a disarmingly honest pregnant neighbour become intertwined and Milla shows those in her orbit how to live like you have nothing to lose. In a story about life, grief and the chaos of family, Babyteeth joyously explores how far we will go for love and how good it is to be alive.
The directorial debut of Shannon Murphy, Babyteeth marks out Murphy as one of the most exciting new director working today, and this film is equal parts innovative and off-the-wall all in the same moment. And you never know where it’s going to take you next, which makes it all the more exciting. Focusing in on the life of alienated teenager Milla Finley (Eliza Scanlen) who is suffering through a very bad cancer diagnosis and who attempts to live her best life possible in a constantly changing and evolving physical, mental and emotional landscape. Murphy’s direction is raw and character-focused in Babyteeth and she takes audiences deep inside the character and emotional life of Milla.
There are also plenty of left turns here, and Babyteeth is certainly something different and unique in the world of ‘coming-of-age’ dramas. With her direction, Murphy uses a chapter-based system to tell her story, and watching it you feel as if Babyteeth is playing out as an almost scrapped booked memories as we see Milla grow and change throughout her battle with cancer. Murphy also pairs this very different story with the beautiful cinematography of Andrew Commis and we get images that are almost hyper-real to look at and shot with a feeling of everything being lived right there in the moment.
Taking on the lead role of Milla Finley is rising star Eliza Scanlen and this young actress proves why she is a talent that deserves to be praised. As the temperamental, zany, off-kilter, fun-loving yet slightly crazy Milla, Scanlen presents a portrait of a young woman caught in a complicated position and who is just trying to make the best of her life as she battles through an awful diagnosis. The key to Scanlen’s performance is a combination of empathy and authenticity and she captures the spirit of youth where every moment needs to be lived to its extreme.
Standing opposite Scanlen is Toby Wallace as Moses, a drug-addicted, street kid who becomes her ‘boyfriend” in this very strange ‘new normal’ in which she is living in and Wallace is a complete revelation in the part. Wallace’s character of Moses is best described as “scum with a heart” and while he’s the last kid you’d want your daughter hanging around with as the narrative builds out both Moses and Milla become a very affectionate, if different couple. Like Scanlen, Wallace disappears into the character of Moses and the result is a very sincere performance from a young actor filled with so much talent.
Finishing off this bizarre nuclear family at the centre of our story are Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn as Milla’s parents Anna and Henry, and both of them are just as crazed as their daughter. While Anna is a pill-popping suburban mum, Henry is a psychiatrist who is a little bit too spacey for his own good, and both add considerable drama to Babyteeth. But both Anna and Henry are contending with the weight of the world on their shoulders thanks to their daughter’s illness and Davis and Mendelsohn are profoundly real and attentive to Milla’s needs and the struggle that they are all facing together.
Babyteeth is a film that is incredibly different and unique, and this makes it one of the most moving and attentive pieces of cinema released this year. It’s originality and unique point-of-view given its subject matter and characters results in a cinema experience you soon won’t forget in what is a very rewarding piece of cinema to watch….especially on the big screen. It’s one film you’ll definitely want to enjoy at the movies.
Image: Universal Pictures