Babyteeth

babyteeth

STARS3.5Australian coming of age saga concerns a teen dealing with painful issues. Ok well, that pretty much describes all of them right?! Yet this one is not your run of the mill standard young adult drama. Where a tale about illness could have been maudlin, this is pragmatic. Its unvarnished account is so rare for this genre and I appreciated its unromantic portrait. Milla Finlay (Eliza Scanlen) is a terminally ill girl attracted to a small-time drug dealer named Moses (Toby Wallace). Their unexpected relationship is the focus. They couldn’t be more different but hey….the heart wants what it wants. Naturally, mother Anna (Essie Davis) and father Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) are not happy. Still, they indulge their daughter’s whims. Their overwhelming desire to make Milla happy outweighs their moral misgivings. The more reckless Milla behaves, the more they are compelled to step in. This honest presentation of humanity details some complicated ethical dilemmas.

What is notable is how much the narrative doesn’t explain. It’s clear that Milla is ill and in time we come to realize she has some form of cancer, but it’s never explicitly stated for the viewer. The observation is voyeuristic in that it is as if we’re eavesdropping on these people’s lives and we have to kind fo fill in the blanks with what we’re seeing. I was frequently perplexed by the actions of these people. For example it’s unclear whether Moses sticks around because he loves Milla or because her family provides the access he needs to drugs. Dad is a psychiatrist and can prescribe medication. These individuals are flawed and the chronicle is knowingly aware of this. However, as things develop we’re able to sort of piece together what makes these various people tick. Even when their judgment is perplexing, it never seems unconvincing. The characters are unique. They challenge our principles but we slowly understand their choices as a result of circumstance.

Director Shannon Murphy has an obvious rapport with this ensemble of actors. Here she makes her feature debut with a script by Rita Kalnejais. Remarkable talents Davis and Mendelsohn make an unconventional mom and dad. We question their child-rearing decisions. The ambivalence of the screenplay does not. It merely presents them as frayed human beings in a problematic situation. Eliza Scanlen plays Milla, the 16-year-old at the center. She is the key. This is a girl whose very existence is limited and that sad fact underscores her behavior. She has nothing to lose. No parent would ever approve of Milla’s choice of a boyfriend in Moses. Nevertheless, we are sensitive to her plight. Scanlen is known for the HBO series Sharp Objects. She also played Beth, the youngest sister in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women in 2019. That was a supporting part. Here she is the star and she rises to the occasion beautifully.

08-14-20

6 Responses to “Babyteeth”

  1. Hmmm. Sounds interesting. I’ll bite.

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  2. Been reading quite a few positive reviews for this. The near-universal sentiment is it’s an unconventional teen sickness drama, and as much as I am a fan of things like The Fault in Our Stars and Me, Earl & the Dying Girl they can become homogenous. HBO Max has this, right?

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  3. Everyone in this family and the boyfriend all had issues. That’s what made this interesting and good. I love how they didn’t really have to explain certain things and just move on. That worked here. Usually I want to know, why? 3 1/2 stars

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