The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - BABYTEETH | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - BABYTEETH

babyteeth review
A teenager with cancer falls for a twentysomething junkie.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Shannon Murphy

Starring: Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder

babyteeth poster

How would the average parent react if their 16-year-old daughter brought home her new boyfriend and he turned out to be a 23-year-old junkie/drug dealer? Not too kindly I imagine. Most would probably throw the young man out of their house, while some might even call the cops. But what if said daughter was dying of cancer, and had a limited time left to enjoy her life? Do you discard the established rules of society, and of conventional parenting, and allow her to have fun, even if you find her choices repellent?

babyteeth review

That's the dilemma faced by parents Anna (Essie Davis) and Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) in Babyteeth, screenwriter Rita Kalnejais's adaptation of her earlier stage play of the same name, directed by Shannon Murphy. Their 16-year-old daughter, Milla (Eliza Scanlen), is in the final stretch of succumbing to cancer, and they want to ensure she makes the most of her final days on Earth. In their eyes, this means continuing to attend school and taking violin lessons, but Milla has different ideas about how she wants to spend her precious time. She wants to spend it in the arms of Moses (Toby Wallace), the rat-tailed 23-year-old junkie she meets cute at a train station.

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Moses is a live grenade tossed into the foxhole Henry and Anna have created to protect their little girl from the world. His addiction makes him volatile and even dangerous, but when he smiles, and his crude face tattoos crease, you can see why Milla might be seduced by his crooked charisma. Taking the circumstances into account, Henry and Anna reluctantly approve of Moses dating their daughter, even moving him into their home so they can keep a watchful eye on him.

babyteeth review

It's certainly an unconventional arrangement, but then Babyteeth is an unconventional drama. For a start, it's the rare movie about terminal illness that doesn't cheaply ask us to feel sympathy for a victim of disease. On the contrary, Milla is the character we feel the least sorry for here, as she's the only one who has her shit together. She's made peace with her fate, and were it not for the interference of her parents, she'd likely be making the most of things.

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Milla's parents, very models of affluent liberal aspiration, are conversely trainwrecks. Their daughter's condition has eaten away at their relationship, and both have turned to drugs as a coping mechanism. As prescribed by her psychiatrist husband, Anna is constantly doped up ("I forgot I'd taken a Zoloft when I took the two Xanax."), while Henry is secretly injecting himself with morphine. Perhaps this is why they're so disdainful of Moses, because in his dilated pupils they see a version of themselves, one that can't hide away in middle-class surrounds. He too has retreated into drugs, for reasons left ambiguous, but he's more honest about his addiction - he might try to pull the wool over other people's eyes, but he's not fooling himself.

babyteeth review

You might imagine a movie like Babyteeth to be a tearjerker, but aside from the emotional flashback coda that closes out the film, I found myself grinning throughout. Its characters might be living in the sort of situations we wouldn't wish on anyone, but they're vividly alive and human. Like the early films of Xavier Dolan, Murphy's film introduces us to a cast of characters whom we initially worry are going to be grating, but by the film's end we've fallen head over heels for this bunch of loveable fuck-ups. We grow to accept their flaws, even if they can't, and we wish the best for them. As the credits roll we're imbued with a sense that things might be alright in the end, for Babyteeth's characters, and for the rest of us.

If your own time is limited, two hours spent in the company of Milla, Moses, Henry and Anna certainly won't feel like a waste. So endearing are the central performances here, that if the movie took all four acting categories at the Oscars, it would be difficult to argue against such a sweep.

Babyteeth is on Netflix UK now.

2020 movie reviews