June 18, 2020 Babyteeth (Movie Review)
The emotional coming-of-age Drama Babyteeth is set to arrive in select theaters, as well as On Demand, on Friday, June 19, 2020, thanks to IFC Films.
Eliza Scanlen (Sharp Objects mini-series, Little Women 2019) stars as a seriously ill teenager named Milla, who falls madly in love with a boy from the wrong side of tracks, figuratively speaking. Moses (Toby Wallace: Boy in the Trees 2016, The Society series) is a handsome young twenty-something and a small-time drug dealer, who happens to be partaking of his own wares when his path literally collides with Milla one day.
Experiencing their worst nightmare, Milla’s parents, Anna (Essie Davis: The Babadook 2014, Assassin’s Creed 2016) and Frank (Ben Mendelsohn: Animal Kingdom 2010, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 2016), are forced to readjust their moral views for their daughter’s sake. And while the Finlay family are not exactly what they appear to be at surface level, neither is Moses. Though when they find common ground in the form of a beautiful soul who believes in the light in each of us, they will all learn to let go and rediscover the joy that hides amid the glorious chaos of life.
Clocking in at 118 minutes, Babyteeth is a feature-length debut for talented director Shannon Murphy (On the Ropes mini-series, Killing Eve series), and is based on the play written by Rita Kalnejais (Surge 2020). It also features the acting talents of Eugene Gilfedder (Jeopardy series, Sea Patrol series), Emily Barclay (Suburban Mayhem 2006, Sisters series), Zack Grech (Fighting Season mini-series), Edward Lau; and more.
Making its world premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, Babyteeth has gone on to serve as a selection in the BFI London Film Festival 2019, Chicago International Film Festival 2019, 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival, ND/NF 2020, and more. Additionally, actor Wallace won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival and Murphy has been named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch. Upon first viewing it’s clear to see how the hype surrounding the Drama/Comedy is so well-deserved.
Babyteeth is a character-driven, dramatic tale with elements of the comedy inherent in life. Each of the film’s main characters is a three-dimensional entity who stumbles and falls along the way toward their epiphanies. And as each is forced to confront common issues—from illness to drugs, mental health to parenting—they evolve, creating a multi-layered and emotional story that is engaging and inspiring thanks to its realism.
Much of Babyteeth’s success comes thanks to its phenomenal cast, as the actors are able to relay the complicated experiences and battles with each of their own dilemmas. Scanlen’s Milla is the glue that binds them all together. Searching for her happy place, Milla is a teen who is facing terminal illness and yet very much still an ordinary girl who is often uncomfortable in her own skin and suffocated by her parents’ well-intentioned helicoptering. In the role, Scanlen is elegant: offering us a view into her soul as she finds happiness in the freedom of dance, as well as in the eyes of Moses.
Though the teen years are often such an awkward time, Scanlen delivers her Milla with a grace and sophistication that reminds us that many young women are wise beyond their years. Obviously, there are additional lessons to be learned in the film, and Scanlen is the actress who delivers the heart-warming thread that ties them all together with her passionate yet nuanced performance.
Not to be overlooked, Wallace’s Moses is a splendid contradiction. A drug dealer, addict, and thief, he is outwardly standoffish, a proverbial ‘bad boy,’ and yet there’s a depth to Moses that only Milla can seem to see. Tossed out by his mother, dismissed by most of society, there’s a damaged young man inside the rough facade, and Wallace is able to beautifully portray the light and the dark of his complicated character. While a 23-year-old man taking a romantic interest in a 17-year-old girl is certainly toeing a moral line, the film tackles the complicated ethics in a way that should staunch any objections from judgmental audience members.
That said, much of the moral debate in Babyteeth sits in the laps of Davis’ Anna and Mendelsohn’s Frank. And just when you start to ask yourself, “Are these two of the worst parents in the ‘burbs?,” Davis’ Anna speaks that very same question. Riddled with anxiety and over-medicated to combat it, beautiful Anna is nearly as complicated as her daughter, and an echo of Moses in many respects. Meanwhile, psychiatrist Frank is no angel, either: he has wandering eyes and, in a rather unsavory move, is treating his own wife for her mental health problems.
Their relationship is a series of movements so choreographed as to feel lifeless, and their sex is so disconnected that it’s awkwardly comedic. It’s easy to see where Milla’s problems began, and, more often than not, the teen appears to be the voice of reason in her parents’ lives. Despite the massive list of flaws in their on-screen characters, Davis and Mendelsohn each give remarkable performances in their roles, reminding us that parents are oftentimes just as confused as their children.
Framed as a series of interconnected scenes that segue flawlessly into one another to detail Milla’s current situation, Babyteeth’s vibrant visuals are accompanied by a wonderfully diverse score by Amanda Brown (Somersault 2004, Enter The Wild 2018). Together, what we see and the sounds that cocoon our ears create an experience that brings the viewer deeper into the interconnected web of the four codependent characters.
So, you’re wondering, is Babyteeth for me? Well, this is not a film for those who do not enjoy character-driven Drama. The pace is languid, evolving organically as Milla dances her way through the interconnected slices, becoming drunk on life. All this as the tension moves the story forward, often built on the back of her tumultuous first love. But much like in life, nothing is ever simple in Babyteeth, and the girl who “destroys everything [she] touches” gifts love and joy to each person in her life. Can a relationship that was born of a chance meeting between two unlikely halves serve as a life-changing communion? We already know the answer and, for this, Cryptic Rock gives Babyteeth 5 of 5 stars.