Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 58 minutes, Director – Shannon Murphy
Fifteen year old Milla (Eliza Scanlen) begins to form a relationship with twenty three year old Moses (Toby Wallace), while her parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn) disapprove, they want her to be happy due to her suffering from cancer
Throughout Shannon Murphy’s directorial debut Babyteeth each new stage in the life of fifteen year old Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is headed with what seems to be a chapter title. Almost every one is written in the past tense, or foreshadows what is to come. Yet, like those around her, the audience is seemingly prepared for each event but is never quite ready, often being taken by surprise and feeling the emotional impact of what happens. Milla is suffering from cancer and is going through another round of chemotherapy, which begins to cause a decline for her – potentially removing her from school.
However, while still at school during a chance encounter at a train station she meets 23 year old Moses (Toby Wallace), a drug-addict who has recently been evicted from his family home. It’s not long until a bond between the two grows and a relationship forms. Milla’s mother (Essie Davis) tells her “that boy had problems” to which she responds “So do I!” The two figures connect due to the ways in which they feel disconnected from the outside world and those around them. As the relationship grows Milla’s parents begin to disapprove, yet don’t want to disappoint their daughter, especially knowing that they too have their own issues – which they perhaps don’t want Milla experiencing.
This is an honest film where every character has their own personal issues and problems. Everyone has room to grow; perhaps linking to the title of Babyteeth, although Milla does still have one of her own left. Despite this personal growth isn’t on the minds of most characters, their main worry is how and when those around them will better themselves for their own benefit, still having to bear through their own issues. Every character is looking for their own bit of happiness, which they very rarely seem to find. But, when Milla does find happiness she knows it, she briefly looks at the camera with a small smile and a glint in her eye knowing that things are going well for her. Opposed to this whenever she’s uncomfortable and things are clearly not right her gaze specifically avoids the camera, it doesn’t go near it. During one scene where she lets a fellow student wear her wig her vulnerable, less-confident state it shown. She literally forces herself up against a wall during this moment of vulnerability and insecurity – which she doesn’t really show to Moses, instead expressing herself with her wigs, of various different styles and colours, a new one as she seems to progress to more confidence during her relationship.
All the performances add to the honest that the film holds. The four central figures (Scanlen, Davis, Wallace and Ben Mendelsohn) all bring in great deals of emotion, particularly during the final half an hour of the film where things begin to be left open without foreshadowing for the viewer, truly heightening the impact. Everything feels authentic and brings you into the film, connecting with each character. This is particularly in the second half of the film as you’ve warmed and connected to each character and understand the situation that they find themselves in. It might take some time, but once you feel a part of the film you’re there and truly feel the impact of the punches that it pulls, and these are powerful punches.
It all eventually comes together to create something engaging, emotional, surprising and with a truly grand impact. You feel for these characters because of the honest reality that they depict. It’s what forms a connection and the top performances only heighten this feeling and the effect that the film has. Because, much like ourselves, these characters all have their own individual problems, ours might not be the same, but we sympathise with these figures as they try to succeed and move ahead with their lives, trying to find some happiness. Which makes it all the more better when Scanlen turns to the camera and gives a warmed smile, reflecting similar feelings to the audience, letting them know that things are going to be alright.
You might not be fully connected with the film until the second half, however before then you’re shown a genuine and thoughtfully produced story looking into the lives of wonderfully performed, honestly imperfect characters, who much like the titular Babyteeth all have room to grow. All building up to true emotion that the audience, like a number of the characters, are told about, but are never truly ready for.