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Film Review:
Babyteeth

Lisa Tomasetti

Director Shannon Murphy’s feature début is something of a teen epic and even a ‘cancer movie’, yet proves very moving due to its tough emotions, melancholy humour and Eliza Scanlen’s central performance.

The Sydney-born Scanlen, who went from Home And Away to HBO’s Sharp Objects and Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women last year, is the main reason to catch this filming of Rita Kalnejais’ script (drawn from her own play), and the whole thing pretty much rests on her painfully lovely characterisation.

Sydney schoolgirl Milla Finlay (Scanlen) is very sick indeed, and Murphy and Kalnejais often use tricky subtitles to demonstrate just how serious her situation is. Her plight has deeply affected her parents Anna (Essie Davis) and Henry (Ben Mendelsohn), as we discover that Anna has given up being a concert pianist to care for her daughter and Henry has dosed her up with anti-depressants. He doesn’t need them, however, because he’s quite expert at retreating and withdrawing into himself.

By sheer chance, Milla meets the wild Moses (Toby Wallace) on a train station platform in a sequence that mixes accidental violence and surprising sweetness. Milla is immediately taken with him, even though she knows he’s pretty bad news, and we can really see why: grungy Moses is the only person who actually talks to her like she’s a real person and doesn’t act like she’s made of glass.

Moses is introduced to Milla’s horrified parents in a very theatrical scene, and when he sneaks in later to rob the place, Milla, somehow, convinces them to let him stay. And each responds differently: Anna bitterly recalls her storied past as a musician, while Henry is drawn to pregnant new neighbour Toby (Emily Barclay, good even if her character’s something of a plot device).

Better than the treacly The Fault In Our Stars, the almost whimsical Me And Earl And The Dying Girl and the more realistic (if still goofy) Five Feet Apart, this doesn’t sentimentalise Milla’s relationship with Moses, which makes their decidedly unusual romance all the more affecting.

Yes, Milla is fully aware that he’s a drug dealer, a liar and a mess, but she doesn’t care.

Babyteeth (M) is screening in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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