A film about first love and dying of cancer – Babyteeth sounds like another YA romance filled with earnest sentiment and cute tropes, instead we get a film that feels real and lived in.
Breakthrough star Eliza Scanlen (best known as Beth from 2019’s Little Women) fills the screen with captivating energy as Milla and sparks chemistry with anyone she’s sharing the screen with. She meets Moses (Toby Wallace) 20, temporarily homeless and with a heavy drug addiction. She’s immediately charmed and invites him into her life – a life filled with cancer treatments and sickness.
The performances of the lead pair fuel the film, though it’s Scanlen’s starpower that does the heavy work, no matter what the scene you cannot take your eyes off of her. Joining them are Essie Davies and Ben Mendelsohn as Milla’s parents, equally heartbroken at their daughters fate and trying to keep themselves and their marriage together using whatever means they have, be it drugs or Milla’s new drug dealer boyfriend. They act as support however each gives a powerhouse performance, Mendelsohn particularly elevating the film is his final beach scene, seamlessly moving from joy to horror to love to acceptance.
A debut feature from Shannon Murphy, Babyteeth is based upon a play of the same name, and whilst Murphy keeps the core performances strong and stage like, her use of location opens the film to new beauty and the stunning Australian world they live in. Scenes of Milla transcendent in the big city or contemplative on beach shores help us follow the expansive emotions she is living in her own private world. The use of colour through Milla’s wigs or Moses’ extensive Hawaiian shirt collection spark moments of excitement and joy, for every moment could be a last for Milla.
A combination of love, lust and last chances spur the story along and whilst I initially found it a hard world to settle in to, I found myself enraptured by the midway point, wanting to spend more time in this family’s home.
An electric and exciting debut with young stars who are sure to go far, Babyteeth is well worth a watch.
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