"Babyteeth" Is The Best Aussie Film I've Seen In Years And Here's Why
In times like these, Babyteeth is the tender and vibrant reminder that even through pain, there is still so much to live for.
EVERY STILL OF this film should be framed and hung on walls, because it really is so beautiful to look at. I couldn’t help but break my husband’s cardinal rule for watching a movie — no talking! — to gush over a myriad of different scenes. Whether at the sight of Milla, played by Eliza Scanlan (HBO's Sharp Objects, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women), as a kaleidoscope of colours projected onto her sickness-ridden, but joyously dancing body. Or at the simple bittersweetness of a bee struggling in an aquamarine pool. Or at longtime partners and parents (Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis), cupping each other’s faces lovingly with their hands. More significantly though, this film is beautiful to feel through.
You don’t expect a movie about a seriously ill teenager, her love for a smalltime drug dealer, Moses, and her grieving and concerned parents to feel hopeful, but it does. Not in all parts — it has the knack for making you catch your breath when you least expect it — but thanks to director, Shannon Murphy, and writer Rita Kalnejais, it is definitely, unmistakably hopeful.
IN HER FIRST leading role, Scanlan skilfully conveys the fragility of Milla’s condition and most wonderfully, her vibrancy, under this first flush of love that finds her as she’s having to face her own mortality. Toby Wallace plays Moses, this — at times, perfectly infuriating — homeless, older drug addict, giving him a warmth that a less intuitive actor mightn’t have managed. Their chemistry is affectionate and immediate, and it is evident the playful physicality of their interactions — from their meet-cute, bumping into each other at the train station, to wrestling on the lawn as her parents watch on — is supplementing what strength is left of Milla's body.
Davis is magic as Anna, a retired concert pianist who is trying to divorce herself from her pain through an erratic use of medication and distancing, then drawing close again, to music. Her bewilderment at how to deal with the hand dealt her is devastating. And I’ve said it to many friends and will repeat here — Mendelsohn as Milla's father, Henry, will break your heart with a single, particular, perfect expression, which I promise you’ll recognise now as soon as you see it. Initially mortified by the object of their daughter's affections, they make every concession possible to give Milla the life she desires, leaving the parents among us to question — what wouldn't we do for our children's happiness?
I AM LOATHE to mention the circumstances in which Babyteeth has been released — if I never mention the coronavirus in another piece of writing again, it will be too soon — but in a painful, seemingly hopeless time, this film breathes with so much life. For Aussies, the familiar sight of rosellas hopping around, oblivious to the pandemic, has been a salve — just as they are in this film, amidst so much illness and heartache.
But no matter where you're from in the world, with tenderness and beauty — whether it be for the thrill of a single stolen lipstick from the chemist; a dress more beautiful than any you’ve worn before; or a single day at the beach — Babyteeth reminds us just how good it is to be alive.
Babyteeth is now showing in select Australian cinemas and on demand in the US. It will be released in select UK cinemas on 14 August.
If you do choose to attend a cinema, we recommend you practise social distancing and wear a mask, where mandated by local laws. Be safe, smart and considerate of others.