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Image Credit: Celluloid Dreams

Simon Dillon, 6th Sep 2020
Tags: Life Review Comedy Drama

Early in 'Babyteeth', a music commentator notes that Mozart’s music, even at it’s darkest and most melancholic, remains shot through with an indomitable optimism.

A teen cancer love story.

It’s a metaphor that rings loud and clear throughout director Shannon Murphy’s quirky, sparkling, humane debut film; a film that so easily could a have fallen victim to disease-of-the-week sentimentality, but instead proves a surprisingly incisive and moving addition to the often mawkish teen cancer love story subgenre.

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The most obvious recent film inviting comparison would be 'The Fault in Our Stars', but for my money this is a far superior offering.

Featuring a first-rate, wholly believable central performance from Eliza Scanlen, she plays Milla, a sixteen-year old girl undergoing chemotherapy, who falls for twenty-three-year old drug addict Moses (Toby Wallace).

Milla rushes headlong into obsessive first love.

Their parents, psychiatrist Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and former musician Anna (Essie Davis), initially disapprove, but knowing she has a short time to live, Milla rushes headlong into obsessive first love.

Scanlen with Toby Wallace as Moses
Image Credit: Celluloid Dreams

All manner of messy, restless, exhilarating situations ensues, and the chemistry between the unlikely leads is palpable. A couple of subplots explore the strains placed on Henry and Anna’s marriage as a result of their daughter’s illness, to equally believable effect.

A story with plenty of rough edges and imperfect characters.

Dividing the narrative with pithy onscreen chapter titles, Murphy and screenwriter Rita Kalnejais craft a story with plenty of rough edges and imperfect characters, but one that is shot through with compassion, and a total absence of judgement.

Everyone at the dinner table
Image Credit: Celluloid Dreams

The film finds joy in simple pleasures.

By eschewing gruelling scenes detailing the horrors of cancer, and instead focussing on Milla’s determination to grab life with both hands and enjoy it while she can, the film finds joy in simple pleasures and offbeat Australian humour, amid the most tragic of circumstances.

Murphy’s genius is making a simple birthday party or beach trip feel transcendent, and ensures hers will be a name to watch out for in the future.

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