Babyteeth (2019)
Dir Shannon Murphy
MA-17 / 1h 58m / Comedy, Drama, Romance

You’re the one that got to have her last breath. You used it. You used it.

We need to talk about Babyteeth. My friend AB sent me the trailer for it sometime months ago and I put it on my list but it wasn’t high up there, mostly because it looked like the regular sick girl falls in love trope. Which I do like, but need to be emotionally available for…. cue the PTSD from The Fault in Our Stars (2014). I knew what to expect with this viewing and this film and this plot – sometimes there’s no way around it – but the way IT GOT THERE was fresh and pretty and raw and visually jostling. There are conflicting emotions to deal with, love to watch unfold, grief to handle, laughs and tears. Tears for days.

Plot: Sick girl falls in love. Parents struggle.

Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is a teenager with cancer. One day she meets Moses (Toby Wallace), he’s 23, homeless, deals drugs, has face tattoos, wears nothing but cutie shorts and dirty shirts. She is enthralled. Why? Not sure, maybe he’s the first person outside of her family to care about her nosebleeds. Maybe it’s just the thrill of the bad boy, of which every girl can relate. Maybe it’s the impending doom of death around the corner that whispers to her to live some life. Either way Milla and Moses enter an emotional relationship fueled by an incredible and immediate connection.

While at its surface this is a story about Milla, her parents Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Anne (Essie Davis), also run the narrative as two people having to deal with a horrible thing. They may or may not be in love, it’s hard to tell. At first you don’t even make the connection that they’re married, Henry does stray a little bit with love and drugs, and Anne is always high on something or nothing.

They live in Australia. I don’t know anything about Australia I just know that I LOVE their house. It seems like it goes on and on forever with rooms and glass doors, backyards and pools. Different family dynamics take place in certain rooms – there is always an air of intimacy in Milla’s bedroom be it with her mom, dad or Moses, togetherness in the dining room with each other and with friends, and love and youthfulness in the backyard – bare feet in the grass. Knees in the pool.

There is a scene where Henry and Anna are observing Milla and Moses outside together and reflect on “bad parenting” which is a thick vein of this film. Aside from being washed away with Milla’s adventure, you run into a wall of thought regarding a parent’s place and responsibility. We are given an incredible burden of protecting a new human – but what happens when that human is terminal before adulthood? Do we respect childhood, lofty afternoons, music lessons, pastel bedrooms, favorite meals – or do we allow our children to experience life, love, sex, drugs, and freedom before it is taken away from them prematurely? It’s a difficult choice, one where either path can leave you with regret.

At first, Henry and Anna fucking hate Moses. I mean, I would too, and you would too. He’s nothing you’d want for your daughter. He’s gross, and sleazy and a liar. He steals their medication and is a terrible influence. He tells Milla’s secrets and runs off on her more than once… I know this doesn’t look like a love story right now. Milla has an incredible draw towards Moses and one of the beauties of this film is there’s not a black and white reason why – she drifts in and out of loving him. He comes and goes until he doesn’t anymore. It’s all very fluid, but it’s a force that hits you like a waterfall.

Music in film works magic for the viewer. It’s very important, and it’s a big task to pick the right tracks. I’d like to inform you that every right music decision was chosen for this film. I mean, wow. Wow!!!!!! If you have read my stuff you know I’m a big fan of genre mixing, and this one hits the nail on the head. There’s beautiful classical moments as Milla is a violinist, and her mother is a pianist, but there are perfect indie tracks placed here and there to represent the spice of Milla’s life outside of that. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s gorgeous. It keeps you on your toes and your ears perked up for the next scene. (Other movies with this success in music that I adore are Marie Antionette (2006) and Youth (2015))

I don’t have anything to fawn over about Milla and Mo’s relationship more than how they danced together. They had so much quiet intimacy. I see a lot of myself in Eliza Scanlen as it is, but I see myself in her characters too and sometimes too much. Milla is an upper body, arm, and hand dancer, an art form of which I have perfected myself being susceptible to car dancing and I loved watching her get lost in it. I loved watching Moses fit into it. I loved the way he looked at her from across a room and up close. I loved how she blushed when he told her she was pretty. I loved the way she was when he was around, smiley, glowy, happy. The adoration was muted to a point that it felt like something you were experiencing yourself; with a stranger or with someone new. Uncovering infatuation. Holding your breath for the next moment.

Now it’s time for two scenes that stuck with me and will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Milla’s mother, Anna, has been reluctant about her piano due to the nature of her daughter’s condition. Milla is shown asking her to play music with her more than once, to be turned down. So naturally the scene where Anna agrees is extra touching. For me, it’s the mother daughter thing. Making beautiful music with a beautiful person that you made. They really do have a great connection – I was able to notice the subtle motherings and appreciate them. This scene really hit me hard because I was watching them truly enjoy doing something special to them together but the darkness in the back of everyone’s mind is still there.

Which leads me to THE SCENE. Milla is terminal so this isn’t a spoiler. The morning of her death, Moses comes out of her room to smoke a cigarette. Henry looks at him in a way which information is received without speaking, but Anna is oblivious. The men watch her get Milla for breakfast and return in a state of rage and despair. Immediately she has it out for Moses Why didn’t you call me? We could have done something! She hates him. She hits him. She tells him to leave. She cries to him:

I didn’t get to say goodbye. She didn’t say goodbye to me. You came here and you smoked us out and you’re the one that got to have her last breath!!!!!!!! You used it. You used it.

When I tell you this made me sob, it made me sob as a mother, it made me sob as someone who has lost someone, and it made me sob as someone that can’t quite decide how I would feel in this situation – yes I want to be selfish and I want to be the one that held my child as she died, but yes, I would also want my child to be held by someone she loved and who loved her as she died. While Anna is collapsing in the living room, Henry is quietly at Milla’s side – staring at her, kissing her, saying goodbye. An incredible moment as a father looks upon his child who is now at peace and no longer in pain. Henry really knew what was up, but I couldn’t be like Henry even if I tried.

Babyteeth truly put me through the ringer when I wasn’t expecting it, and I love it for that. I love it for the so many things it made me feel. I love it for what I learned about family and love and loss. I love it for what it taught me about myself. I love it for how fresh and intimate it made an age old story. I will watch it again. I will cry again. And I’ll tell everyone about it. Truly a little indie masterpiece.

9.5/10 – Hold me closer tiny upper body, arm, and hand dancer.

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