Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Being a teenager is hard, as it’s a time in your life where you’re not a child, not really an adult, and you have a lot of complicated stuff going on. There’s school, first loves, trying to fit in, bickering with your parents, the list goes on.
But in Babyteeth, our teenage protagonist has to contend with the stresses of being a sixteen year old as well as a devastating cancer diagnosis. Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is terminally ill, and soon finds herself falling for a twenty-something addict with face tattoos who’s been kicked out of his home. That’s a lot more pressure than Milla or her parents could’ve ever expected.
Milla’s situation becomes obvious to us straight away, as she encounters Moses (Toby Wallace) on a train platform. The two have an instant, almost cliched bond, as Milla gets a nosebleed and Toby lies her down to help her out. It’s an unconventional ‘love at first sight’ moment, sure, but it’s the spark that ignites the rest of their story.
Both Scanlen and Wallace are incredible in the leading roles, portraying them in all their complex glory. The characters are flawed, simply trying to navigate life, but their awkward chemistry is captivating. It’s a pairing that really shouldn’t work, but in this case, they actually end up being good for each other.
Music also plays an integral role in the film, with the soundtrack being one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Milla and her mother both play instruments, and this creates a complicated bond between them. One of the best scenes in the film is when they play together, and there’s no need for words, just music.
The tone of the film fluctuates rapidly, going from joyous moments spent with loved ones, to horrible scenes of conflicts that feel like they came straight out of a soap opera. Babyteeth doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the complexity of Milla and her current situation. It’s clear she’s struggling tremendously with family life, her blossoming crush, and the uncertainty of her health.
Every character in the film has their own issues and inner demons, and we also see the domestic struggles between her parents, played by Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn. Their personalities inevitably clash throughout the story, as they struggle to come to terms with Milla and her new relationship with Moses, who’s riddled with his own problems. But ultimately, like any good parents, they just want what’s best for their child.
Babyteeth is an incredibly poignant film and a brilliant debut for Eliza Scanlen, who later went on to play Beth in Greta Gerwig’s wonderful adaptation of Little Women. She’s such a talent and it’s easy to immediately find yourself drawn to Milla, hoping that she can navigate life during such a turbulent time.
Another thing I really respected about this film was its unwillingness to present Milla as ‘inspiration porn’, and her illness didn’t define her. It was never presented in a gratuitous or inappropriate way, and instead we got to learn more about Milla, her interests, and her thoughts. She’s a very interesting protagonist and I enjoyed following her story.
This is not an easy watch, it’s the kind of film that will break your heart in two, and you feel exhausted after going on this sometimes perilous journey with these characters. It’s emotionally rich, deeply engaging, and a wonderful way for me to kick off my 2021 reviews.
Babyteeth is now available to watch on Netflix UK. You can watch the trailer below: