Starring: Eliza Scanlen, Essie Davis, Toby Wallace
Director: Shannon Murphy
Running Time: 120 mins
Babyteeth is an Australian film about a seriously ill teenager who falls in love with a delinquent drug dealer, to the dismay of her parents.
Though it’s far from the easiest watch, Babyteeth is a truly gorgeous film, and one that offers a beautiful outlook on life while taking on challenging and sobering real-world drama. Brought to life in effortless style by director Shannon Murphy and featuring an ensemble of fantastic performances, it’s a mesmerising watch with a touching and heartbreaking core.
There’s so much to love about Babyteeth, but one of the things that makes it so gripping throughout is the way in which it evolves over the course of its runtime. After all, we’ve seen countless coming-of-age movies before, and if this were to just follow the same path, there wouldn’t be quite as much to write home about.
Babyteeth indeed starts off as a sweet and moving portrait of teen rebellion, first love and self-discovery, as we follow Eliza Scanlen as a teenage girl who, under the pressure of a serious illness, begins to break out of her childlike shell and see the world through new eyes.
Scanlen’s performance is wonderful right from the start, as she has the perfect blend of wide-eyed innocence and innate fire and curiosity to make her character’s development both convincing and gripping to watch. That means, as a coming-of-age drama, Babyteeth really impresses in its early stages, and grabs your attention for the rest of the film.
Following on from its opening act, Babyteeth begins to evolve into a more challenging drama, tackling difficult issues such as suffering with cancer and drug addiction. The themes of self-discovery and coming-of-age still remain, but the focus is widened in the second act from Scanlen’s character to herself and her family and friends.
With that, the film opens up really nicely as it offers an affecting yet still heartfelt perspective on the struggles of her parents, as well as Moses, the troubled young man who she falls for.
Toby Wallace’s wonderful performance as Moses is integral to the story, and his likeability in spite of a questionable lifestyle allow you to sympathise with him and eventually come to understand why he is the way he is, and what he’s really like.
Meanwhile, Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn are equally impressive as Scanlen’s parents, and with understated yet convincing and emotionally charged performances, are able to develop their characters and their struggles into important and fascinating parts of the story, without overshadowing the central focus.
That range of drama and focus means Babyteeth is so much more than your average coming-of-age drama, and it gives the film such striking gravitas throughout, as it shows time and time again that it’s not afraid to take on challenging issues with a unique and eye-opening outlook.
Yet while the film certainly hits hard with that dramatic gravitas, it also manages to avoid telling its story without an overwhelming sense of melancholy. It does that through the use of a wonderfully honest and down-to-earth sense of humour, but more importantly through a powerfully positive perspective on life.
Shining a light on the brighter moments in a difficult situation, Babyteeth consistently offers drama to warm your soul just as it captivates with often weighty storytelling. That does mean the swings between the joyful highs and the devastating lows are particularly intense, making the film somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster, but it really allows you to appreciate this story in both a positive and sobering light.
Another part of what make Babyteeth so gorgeous is its use of music and visuals. With mesmerising direction from Shannon Murphy throughout, this film delights thanks to a beautiful score and intimate, often even psychedelic cinematography, lending it a powerful sense of cool and elegance that only pulls you deeper into its enthralling trance.
From start to finish, Babyteeth is a truly wonderful film that both hits hard and makes you smile. Its only trouble is a slightly rushed opening act, with too few details left up to interpretation that leaves you chasing the story for the first twenty minutes, but apart from that, there’s little to criticise about this film.
Utterly gorgeous, emotionally resonant and unique in so many ways, Babyteeth is one of the best coming-of-age dramas ever made. It’s not an easy watch, but neither is it an overwhelmingly tough watch. Telling a difficult story complete with gripping dramatic range, this film impresses so much thanks to an ensemble of incredible performances, gorgeous directing, effortless style, heartfelt humour and a distinctive outlook on life. So, that’s why I’m giving Babyteeth an 8.3 overall.