Babyteeth (M) - 118 minutes
Updated: Jan 8
A decidedly quirky take on the declining health of a teenage schoolgirl who falls in love with a homeless drug addict, Babyteeth is among the year’s best Australian films.
Wearing her school uniform, Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is on a train platform when she is almost bowled over by a tattooed young man, Moses (Toby Wallace), who deliberately rushes toward an oncoming train in daredevil fashion.
While others take the train, the 15-year-old stays behind with the guy, who admires her hair.
She appears intrigued by this ruffian.
Next thing you know, 23-year-old Moses has removed his t-shirt to stem the blood that is coming from Milla’s nose.
He hits her up for money.
She invites him home.
From that point on Moses becomes a constant – if unreliable – force in Milla’s life, regardless of the fact that her cancer has returned, treatment for which makes her very sick at times.
It turns out that he has been turfed out of his own home and lives on the streets, constantly looking for his next hit.
Moses takes advantage of Milla’s kindness, but the bond between them grows.
Meanwhile, her parents – who care deeply about her – are quite a couple.
He – Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) – is a psychiatrist. She – Anna (Elsie Davis) – has some mental health issues, for which he is treating her.
She also turns up for her regular, weekly office quickie.
Neither of them is happy their daughter has taken up with this older bloke from the wrong side of the tracks, but try as they do to push him away, Moses knows he is on to a good thing.
A subplot involves Henry’s curiosity and growing friendship with a single pregnant woman who has moved into a house opposite his.
Writer Rita Kalnejais has crafted a left of centre piece imbued with joy, humour and tears.
Babyteeth is based on a play she wrote, which was first performed to a sell out season at the Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney in 2012.
A series of flawed creatures inhabit the screen, each with their own foibles.
The actors ensure they have fun with their roles.
In a rich, warm performance, Eliza Scanlen fashions Milla with innocence and joie de vivre.
There is a gritty prettiness about Toby Wallace’s roughish role.
Ben Mendelsohn has a twinkle in his eye throughout as a man with a cuckoo’s nest existence.
Essie Davis lets herself go as a caring space cadet.
The subject matter could well have made for some heavy lifting, but that is not how it has been written or how director Shannon Murphy has played it.
Rather, it has a deliberate choppiness about it to extract the ever-uncertain highs and lows.
Textual references regularly flit across the screen, adding another element to this coming-of-age tale.
Milla would like to live out her life like any other kid her age. She is all too aware of what confronts her but wants to experience the joys and the anticipation. She is prepared to roll the dice.
Moses is her vessel to live life to the fullest.
Her parents – reluctant though they are, at first – give her rope.
Milla is not the first to fall for a bad boy. Nor will she be the last.
Regardless, we are all the better for getting to know her.
Rated M, Babyteeth scores an 8 out of 10.