Review: Babyteeth

Shannon Murphy’s direction is fearless, as she weaves a devastatingly brilliant tale of young love, terminal illness, drug addiction and finding sheer joy in just growing up. It’s not new to Netflix, but I’ve never felt such a need to urge people to watch a film. 

It has been a long time since I’ve watched a film that has made me feel so many emotions all at one- Babyteeth is a violent, but stunningly kaleidoscopic take on how to reach fulfilment, and at what cost. The incredible Eliza Scanlen (Little Women) plays Milla- a depressed 16-year-old struggling with the fall out of her cancer diagnosis. Her home life is comfortable, but not without struggle, as the film decodes the intrinsic problems with her parents’ middle-class suburban marriage.

She feels suffocated, and it’s safe to say meeting Moses (Toby Wallace) grants her a much-needed breath of *not-so-fresh*, but powerful air. Raging with chemical energy, Moses ignites Milla with a passion for vitality, right from their chance meeting. Their relationship does not blossom or wilt; it more crescendos into bursts of sheer joy or crushing despair. But it seems Milla couldn’t really feel until meeting Moses, and it seems Moses could not hold responsibility before Milla. They’re a burning, and vulnerable, paradox of a pairing, that are fascinating to watch. It is rare to see such complex characters written and performed so delicately, yet passionately.  

The friendship tackles them both out of the blue- on a vast and deep trajectory of sexual awakening and hedonism (in the form of petty theft and someone’s addiction to prescription medication). Horizons, spiritually and physically, are widened, the film documenting it beautifully.

Eliza makes every moment count- her performance is stellar. It is equally matched by that of her damaged, but damningly determined, mother (Essie Davis). Watching a mother struggle between savouring every moment of her daughter’s dwindling lifetime or sacrifice that time to the epitome of a bad influence (that’s Moses) is harrowing, but it’s a story of beauty. It appears that life is one of balance: control and indulgence. Milla’s father, a hardened psychiatrist with emotional fault lines, investigates this balance, but not without failing along the way.  

Watching this brought me to realise how this COVID time of life has made everyone susceptible to a numbness- a numbness caused by reaching peak comfortability in a time of complete chaos: like a calm confusion. Something about this film wakes you up. You’re confronted with utter beauty whilst watching the darkest moments of life, and whilst being devastated by its little joys. It’s less refreshing, and more a reset for your brain’s emotive capacity. Watch with caution (and tissues), but definitely WATCH.

Babyteeth is available on Netflix

5/5 Stars.