Babyteeth (2019)

Babyteeth is a vivid new take on coming-of-age directed by Shannon Murphy from a script that Rita Kalnejais adapted from her play of the same title.

Love Bites

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In her unusual and vivid directorial debut Shannon Murphy has that knack of framing something mundane to make it look somehow distanced and other-worldly, aided by director of photography, Andrew Commis. The film is episodic, ironically labelled and where’s it’s heading becomes clear as it develops.

Schoolgirl Milla (Eliza Scanlen) first meets Moses (a charismatic Toby Wallace) when he bursts onto the platform where she’s waiting for her train home. In his twenties, half-shaven mullet-haired, in shorts, he’s an unpredictable, unsuitable, irresistible explosion of energy and life and a mass of contradictions. He tries to borrow money, says what she offers is too much, then mops up her nosebleed with his T-shirt. She’s instantly hooked. And so is he.

Milla’s parents are Henry, a psychiatrist (Ben Mendelsohn) and Anna, a former pianist (Essie Davis). Milla plays the violin and music, both classical and contempoary, is a strong theme.

To their middle-class horror, Milla invites Moses home and despite the age gap, their relationship grows. Slowly we learn that Milla is terminally ill and has lost her hair from chemotherapy, so the long blonde hair that Moses first commented on is in fact a wig: there’s an excruciating scene where an insensitive classmate insists on trying it on. And Moses is a low-grade druggie, estranged from his well-to-do family, who tries to steal her meds.

But each seems to be what the other needs. Milla, strangely, still has to lose one of her baby teeth: but the film shows her growing up quickly, with an unstoppable thirst to savour what experiences she can in the time she has left. For her Moses is like an infusion of a life force and she brings out another, caring, side to him. Her parents adjust their expectations around them. Watching them together in the garden, Anna comments “This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine.”

The premature teen-death story has potential for sentimentality (The Fault in Our Stars) but instead it’s fresh, quirky, witty and heartbreaking.

Babyteeth screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 14 August 2020 in the UK. See an exclusive clip below.

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