Babyteeth: Heartbreaking and Imperfect
Babyteeth is a heartbreaking drama-comedy that revolves around Milla, a sixteen-year-old with cancer. The story is far from one-note and reveals the captivating power of music, the impacts of drugs on a family, and the lives of the parents of a child who is ill. Though the story is intriguing, it was difficult not to be distracted by some of the poor writing and filming decisions, which took away from the overall enjoyment.
Babyteeth follows the story of Milla, a teenager fighting cancer who falls in love with a drug dealer, Moses. In an interesting turn of events, they unexpectedly change each other's lives. The film features an incredible cast of characters with Milla played by Eliza Scanlen, Moses played by Toby Wallace, Anna played by Essie Davis, and Henry played by Ben Mendelsohn. The film is directed by Shannon Murphy and written by Rita Kalnejais. The film was released in 2019, and since then has received various Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards including the award for Best Direction, Best Lead Actor, Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film, and Best Casting.
Before I watched Babyteeth, I was sure I was going to love it. I have had a great love for Eliza Scanlen ever since seeing her in Little Women, I adore the sick girl trope, and I’m a fool for a good love story, but this movie was much different than I expected. The biggest difference was that this movie took far from the traditional route of films with similar themes, and rather than focusing the film around the main character's cancer diagnosis, the film somehow ignores it, while also making the film all about it. They do this by seldomly showing signs of cancer in Milla except when it could be used to make the storyline move forward, but constantly insinuating it. This wasn’t entirely a bad thing, but I struggled as a watcher to feel connected to the story when I didn’t feel the story they were trying to tell was what I was seeing on screen.
One aspect of this film that I did love, was the constant infusion of music into the story. Milla plays the violin, and her mother plays piano. Milla's relationship with her violin becomes a representation of her overall happiness within the film. When Milla plays her violin well, she feels happy and well, and when plays badly she is far from happy.
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of this film was the blatant age difference between Milla (16) and Moses (23) at a terrifying seven-year age difference. Instead of being able to shamelessly enjoy the love story, I couldn’t stop thinking about the age difference, and anytime I was able to put it aside, it was mentioned again, it was almost as if the writer wanted the watcher to be disgusted by their relationship, but love it anyway. For me, it was too hard to get over and took away my overall enjoyment of the film.
Throughout the film, I felt relatively disconnected from the story, the start of the movie is slow, and there are some pretty boring segments. But it all changed during the last twenty to thirty minutes of the film. A few moments took place that reconnected me to the story and made it feel all the more real, leaving me sobbing for a solid twenty minutes afterward. But, the twenty minutes didn’t make up for the rest of the movie.
Overall, Babyteeth wasn’t my favorite movie. It had some solid moments that tugged at my heartstrings and was beautiful to watch, but most of its troubles were difficult to ignore. If you are looking for a good cry this is the movie for you, but either way I encourage you to give the film the benefit of the doubt and watch it for yourself.