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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Babyteeth' Review: When Your Problematic First Love Might Be Your Last One

Eliza Scanlen in a red room
IFC Films

There’s something utterly sad about coming-of-age films which are probably more coming-to-age films since the main character is dealing with terminal illness, following their last moments and impact left to those who are close. That is Babyteeth which is director Shannon Murphy’s first film after mainly working on TV series. It’s about Milla (played by Eliza Scanlen) who is 16 and who finds her first love in a 23 year old, homeless drug addict Moses/”Mo” (Toby Wallace) right before she is expected to go through heavy chemotherapy for her cancer. Delightfully dancing around genre tropes in neon lights, you get a real sense of emotionality from the end result.

Scanlen and Wallace in their leading roles deliver something very captivating which is quite honestly hard to explain with words. It’s never overly romantic per se nor is it passionate, the two characters are just depending on each other in ways that they don’t connect with other people. Also Ben Mendelsohn (Henry) and Essie Davis (Anna) as Milla’s parents are kind of like that as well, with both of them self-medicating because they don’t know how to handle their daughter’s illness but also lashing out at each other while still keeping up a physical connection. All four perform in a way that very much meets the viewer’s eye. Cinematographer Andrew Commis and his lighting crew portray Murphy’s vision of loss, mortality and desperation beautifully, you might want to take a closer look at a certain house party scene or anything that plays with natural or fill light on Milla’s face, it’s all very vibrant and delicate.

Most importantly the visuals reflect Babyteeth’s overall story which, as said, plays with genre expectations. Parents do bad parenting instead of just denying Mo’s existence in Milla’s life, even calling themselves out when observing the two getting close physically. It makes sense because they’re obviously ignoring problems since their daughter won’t probably get to see second love. Moses as a character also stays consistent nearly the whole time, Murphy and the screenplay only slip up majorly with one scene towards the end which is quite unnecessary (spoilers however) considering that we’ve at that point spent 90 minutes establishing both Mo and Milla’s motives for their feelings. That’s one scene of few which make the film more fantastical than needed and there were also editing issues in moments that just make the chapters a bit too long (the film is structured with chapters, not with usual acts.)

Smileys: Cinematography, performance by a cast, lighting, story

Frowneys: Some issues with editing and screenplay

Yo, what’s up with one Australian film per year (The Nightingale, Relic, Babyteeth) that I like and appreciate but bums me out so much I never want to see it again. Even the weather doesn’t seem to matter.


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