A different kind of teenager with cancer film. Way different. Way better than most. Aussie Shannon Murphy’s (first film) looks at a young person afflicted with that terrible disease in a different way. A way which does not rely on the maudlin and heartbreaking exclusively. Those things are in there, but so are things like first love, marriage, coping with the inevitable, and the importance of family.
The film is based upon a stage play of the same name. It totally still feels like a play in that despite some “action” it relies mostly on dialogue and acting. The entire cast is strong, but special notice has to be paid to the two young actors – Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace.
Milla (Eliza Scanlen – Little Women – 2019, Sharp Objects) seems like your typical teenage girl in that she has a sometimes awkward relationship with her parents, doesn’t especially like school and has no experience with love. Well, after her cancer diagnosis things are going to change…drastically.
While waiting for the train home from school one day she meets Moses (Toby Wallace – from television’s Romper Stomper). He is very different from her. 23-year-old Moses lives on the streets and is a drug addict/dealer. They meet because he asks Milla for money. Right away she is attracted to him, so offers to give him $50, which he refuses because it is too much.
Though Moses is not looking to get into a relationship with this younger girl, he does end up coming around. Soon Milla is bringing him to dinner. Her mother (Essie Davis – Assassin’s Creed, The History of the Kelly Gang) and father (Ben Mendelsohn – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Dark Knight Rises) are not thrilled, but when her cancer comes viciously back, they realize that Moses is the only thing keeping their daughter’s spirits up.
So he moves in with the family. Milla’s father, who is a doctor, makes him a deal that if Moses sticks around he will get him drugs. Of course, the deal is made without Milla’s knowledge. As he and Milla get closer, Moses is inspired by her so he gets clean and is buoyed by having the family he misses now around him. Everyone is happy. You know sooner or later the other shoe is going to drop.
Even in times like we are living now and with the spectre of cancer hanging over all of us, what remains is that it is good to be alive. A film like this remainds us of that universal truth. All the emotions – good and bad – that come with life are laid out here. Reminding us that most of the time beauty comes with pain. It shows all the colours of life having you laughing/smiling the same amount it will bring about tears.
A film like this usually comes loaded with expectations and tropes. Why Babyteeth works is because it does not allow itself to fall into the pitfall of doing what is expected. There is a raw and natural feel throughout with nary a forced moment to be found.