There seems to be an increase in the dying teenager genre, whether it’s a teen drama, comedy or romance, or a combination of all three, the number of films that have this heightened tragic story at the core of the film is hard to ignore. When there are so many stories that feel the same, to distinguish from the list, there has to be something special. Babyteeth doesn’t quite sit above all the others that have come before it in terms of story but it does make your heart break despite knowing what will ultimately happen. The central performances are what makes this particular dying teenager more than just another title to the pile.
Milla is 16 years old and suffering from a terminal illness when she meets 23-year-old slacker Moses by chance. Bringing him home to meet her parents, each dealing with their daughter’s condition in very different ways. Harold, a therapist just wants her to be happy, Anna takes medication of her own to feel stable. As Milla deuterates, she tries to have new experiences and balance out what life she has left while those closest to her try to come to terms with what will happen after she dies.
From the moment we meet Milla, she has a nose bleed, which is the first indication that something isn’t quite right. Her decision to bring home Moses, who is most likely on drugs, and confesses to being kicked out by his mother is another red flag. Milla takes an instant liking to this guy, maybe because she hasn’t much time left but she continues to try with him, even after he seems hesitant to continue seeing her. It’s as if Milla knows that Moses needs someone who will look out for him and as she won’t be around for long, her parents can help him. Their so-called romance is every bit the teen drama, despite the age difference, Moses behaves like a wayward teenager, even believing that he shouldn’t have a job. But his attachment to Milla, by the end, is genuine. He becomes sober, tries to be a better person, and even tries to do the one thing a loved one in pain will always ask.
Based on the stage play of the same name by Rita Kalnejais, also the screenwriter, the film, which is split into scenes complete with descriptions on-screen does have the atmosphere of a play, with the central location of the Finlay house being the stage. All performances of the major players from Toby Wallace and Australia’s finest; Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn give great performances, in particular Mendelsohn’s quiet despair in the final scenes. Eliza Scanlen as Milla, giving side glances to camera throughout as if we’re sharing a secret with her throughout the story, adds another great performance and character to her ever-impressive resume.
Dir: Shannon Murphy
Prd: Alex White
Scr: Rita Kalnejais
Based on: Babyteeth (stage play) by Rita Kalnejais
Cast: Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder
DoP: Andrew Commis
Music: Amanda Brown
Running time: 120 minutes
BABYTEETH is available on DVD, Blu-ray & Digital from 7 December