A heart-aching Australian gem that’ll rip your heart out in all the right ways.
Directed by Shannon Murphy from a screenplay by Rita Kalnejais – based upon her stage play of the same name – Babyteeth sees 16-year old cancer patient Milla (Eliza Scanlen, recently seen as Beth in Greta Gerwig’s excellent Little Women) fall for 23-year-old Moses (Toby Wallace), a tattooed, rat-tailed scallywag with a penchant for drugs who’s nothing but bad news. Predictably, her parents (Essie Davis, Ben Mendelson) are wary of this new addition to their daughter’s life but can’t bring themselves to deny Milla the newfound happiness she discovers in the rush of first – and last – love.
From that skinny alone, alarm bells should be ringing, as the idea of yet another coming-of-age tearjerker à la The Fault In Our Stars or Me And Earl And The Dying Girl in which girl-meets-boy-but-girl-is-terminally-ill isn’t terribly appealing. Not that both these films aren’t immensely watchable, but another riff on this particular subgenre is the last thing anyone needs.
Thankfully, Murphy’s debut feature is a strikingly fresh variation on familiar terrain that earns every one of its emotional contrivances: she approaches genre-familiar themes of rebellion and first love with great compassion and reinvigorates them by never straying into rote sentimentality. Instead, she elevates potentially melodramatic content to lyrical heights by including a welcome smattering of humour.
The filmmaker also plays with light and colour via Andrew Commis’ cinematography in order to lovingly frame the characters’ faces and create a dizzying warmth to Sydney’s suburbs; coupled with the beautifully-curated and wonderfully eclectic soundtrack, featuring the likes of Sudan Archives, Donnie & Joe Emerson, Vashti Bunyan, Mallrat and Mozart, we get a dirge-like glimpse into the way Milla wants to perceive the world and how reality ends up feeling like a fall. The end result is a heartachingly powerful Antipodean gem that’ll rip your heart out in all the right ways – a tender and swoon-worthy story about celebrating the things that make us feel more alive.
Babyteeth / Directed by Shannon Murphy (Australia 2019), with Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelson. Starts October 08.