THE STORY – A terminally ill teen upsets her parents when she falls in love with a small-time drug dealer.
THE CAST – Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder, Essie Davis & Ben Mendelsohn
THE TEAM – Shannon Murphy (Director) & Rita Kalnejais (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 120 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
We’ve all seen young adult movies where one of the main characters has a terminal illness. These movies typically prey on our emotions, in what some might call emotional manipulation to elicit a powerful reaction. On its surface, “Babyteeth” seems to be another one of these movies but debut director Shannon Murphy (“Killing Eve”) continuously subverts our expectations, digs deeper within her characters, and unearths raw emotion from her actors to bring us something singular and extraordinary. It may be yet another coming-of-age film, but I promise, you won’t see anything else quite like it.
Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is a teenage girl who is severely ill, living at home with her parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn). One day, by chance on the train platform, she meets an older small-time drug dealer named Moses (Toby Wallace) who she quickly falls in love with. Due to the age difference and Moses’s lifestyle, her parents disapprove of their relationship but they see how much the new connection has rejuvenated MIlla. Despite the ups and downs, Milla inspires everyone around her that life is worth living again.
An Australian drama of the highest order, “Babyteeth” has an edge and a rawness that makes its drama feel earned and genuine. Nothing here feels manufactured or created to deliberately cash in on our tears for a buck. Much of that is due to screenwriter Rita Kalnejais (adapting her own play, also called “Babyteeth”). She injects much-needed character development into the story and gives room not only for Milla and Moses to breathe in their relationship but also for Milla’s parents, played wonderfully by Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn. It’s very rare to find a movie with such consideration for its characters, knowing full well that such careful development will pay off in dividends when the film concludes, which is exactly what “Babyteeth” does. It hits you hard, right in the gut, because Murphy and Kalnejais have taken their time, carefully laid out these characters, and have gotten us to truly care. Eliza Scanlen especially is a true star (if you didn’t already know that from her work on “Sharp Objects” and “Little Women“), who shows wisdom and confidence beyond her years. This will surely continue to push the trajectory of her career in a positive direction and I cannot wait to see what else she brings to the table next.
Not only is “Babyteeth” incredibly well-acted but it is also well shot and conceived by Shannon Murphy. With colorful title cards that flash on the screen during various points in the film, used to “fill in the blanks” for the audience as to what has happened to these characters or what has changed, Murphy continues to showcase her unique eye and a firm grasp on how to best tell a story. The soundtrack is also a banger, with several inspired choices that never distract from the movie itself, but all feel of a part of the world that Murphy is creating. “Babyteeth” is a wonderfully mature, thoughtful, and engrossing coming-of-age drama that subverts tropes that we commonly see and presents characters that are worth caring for. Grab your tissues for this one.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Takes familiar storytelling tropes and subverts them, creating a mature and dramatically impactful story that is worth seeking out. The performances from everyone are terrific.
THE BAD – Pacing and length might be an issue for some.