Life and love are powerful notions, and in this Australian drama the pair are intertwined with crushing and up-lifting excellence. This, a first time feature for both director and star, is an impressive debut and sparkles with confidence and care.
Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is a teenager with a life-threatening illness who is all but floating through life unawares, until a chance encounter with 23 year old drug dealer Moses (Toby Wallace). Milla’s parents might not approve at first but their wild connection gives their daughter a new lease on existence.
Shannon Murphy steps away from short films to create this debut feature and it’s one with a clear and focused voice; one that ensures the tropes of small town indie movie aren’t as cliched as can often be. The story from the playwright herself Rita Kalnejais is one that assuredly knows how to blend the styles of tickling humour with soul-wrecking emotion and as a pair of female creators they present the scary truths of mortality with a rawness and beauty.
The film is divided into mini chapters, each one signified by multi coloured inter-titles which keeps it close to the structure of the play’s roots. Every character within the bookmarked narrative harbours their own inner demons, ones that are maddening, slightly normal through the trials of life but with all this, they all know however strange Milla’s new fling might be; her eyes opening with newfound appreciation and excitement is not something they wish to prevent.
‘Babyteeth’ is definitely a topsy romantic relationship and the age gap is a weird one to totally buy into, but thankfully the comedy and dramatics mesh nicely and by the end, with a gently lapping tide to leave you in silent thought, you cannot help but realise through misty eyes that the film did most of its job.
The film isn’t always strong, there are points when it mellows too much or just happens to stray very close to becoming the generic indie flick with coming-of-age antics. In certain scenes, it can feel that fatigue might rest over you because moments outstay their welcome but down to the marvellous cast, you do keep engaged enough with a story of two unique souls careering into one another.
Toby Wallace embodies the care-free, tattooed drifter well, he sees something in Milla and even if at first, his appearance seems selfish there’s a nice wonder he finds in her, everyone else pities her or sees her as different but because Moses is different and free-spirited they easily strike up a bond. Eliza Scanlen is a sensation and you feel that she’s been on screen for many years, perhaps her ‘Sharp Objects’ brilliance aids the notion of her sublime cinematic presence but no, she’s just so good. Scanlen is a force of nature and leads the film with expressive features and heart-felt realism.
Look to the skies and see life in a new way, ‘Babyteeth’ has flashes of comedy, a charged musicality in Milla’s first foray into nightlife and an older beau but what wrenches your heart and stays with you is the reflection on a poignant and life-affirming tale.