This year we’ve all lost an element of control over our own lives due to lockdowns and national/local restrictions. As we continue to struggle to adapt to a social landscape that seemingly changes every 2 weeks, thanks Boris, we need to gain some perspective that life is, and can be, more difficult for others, like it is for Milla and her family in Shannon Murphy and Rita Kalnejais film making debut, Babyteeth.
Babyteeth tells the story of Milla, played by Eliza Scanlan, a 16 year old girl with cancer who after a chance encounter with a drug addict and petty criminal named Moses, played by Toby Wallace, begins to fall in love. Despite Milla’s new infatuation, Moses isn’t welcomed with open arms by Milla’s parents, played by Ben Mendelsohn and The Babadook’s Essie Davis. The film follows the lives of these four very different people as they try to process their situation and gain whatever control they can from their lives that are seemingly spiraling downwards.
Written by first time scriptwriter Rita Kalnejais, Babyteeth is a sensitive portrayal of a family dealing with a situation they can’t control and Kalnejais defines each character, their struggle and their methods of coping in such a perfectly chaotic way that feels authentic to a real life suburban family. As well as this, Kalnejais script and Shannon Murphy’s direction, inject this seemingly bleak story with its fair share of comedic charm and quirkiness that balances out the darker tones of the film seamlessly.
Predominantly centering on Milla due to her illness, the film documents her teenage angst and rebellion, not only towards her parents, but also towards her own illness. In this way we can sympathize with her more than the average coming-of-age protagonist as she truly doesn’t have control of her life as she is very much aware that she could die. Milla is a girl who wants to make the most of what little life she has been given and you can’t help but root for her for doing so.
Although centering around Milla, the film doesn’t just express her perspective. Babyteeth also explores how her parents cope with Milla’s rebellion, as well as, the possibly that they may lose their only child. Both Henry and Anna process their lack of control over life is different, but similarly unorthodox ways. Not only do we feel for each character individually, but we also witness how this situation can take its toll on a marriage without ever picking a side to do so. Henry and Anna’s grief is complexly and equally explored and Murphy and Kalnejais are mature enough to understand that whenever they act irrationally, it is because they two parents grieving their child whilst they are still alive.
Perhaps the most engaging character development to witness in Babyteeth is that of Moses. When we meet him, he’s a lowlife junkie in need of money; however through his rocky friendship and unconventional relationship with Milla, Moses begins to show his softer more caring side. Essentially Moses is a homeless man that needs a home and thanks to Milla and her reluctant parents, maybe he’s finally found one.
Overall, Babyteeth is a triumphant coming-of-age film that’s made all the more outstanding due to its maturity to explore a multitude of perspectives. With an excellent ensemble cast, empathetic direction and a mature and complex script, Babyteeth will break your heart, but with a few laughs along the way. As someone that has gone through a similar experience, I have to say that Shannon Murphy and Rita Kalnejais have handled this situation perfectly and authentically. I won’t lie, this is a tough watch, however its all the more rewarding for being so.
Babyteeth is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download on December 7th