Written by: Rita Kalnejais
Starring: Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder, Essie Davis
Understanding the decisions teenagers make can feel like a useless exercise because it appears to lack any logic, especially from a grown adult perspective. This can be accepted but when it occurs with the decision-making of literally every character in a feature, it does not fare well, which Babyteeth finds itself trying to achieve. Instead, it becomes a ridiculous exercise of who wants to be the most insufferable character of them all.
Battling with a terminal illness, Milla (Eliza Scanlon) meets the disheveled Moses (Toby Wallace) and falls head over heels for him. As they begin to bond, she learns more about his substance abuse issues. With her wanting him to be part of her life, she must contend with his issues as her parents, Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Anna (Essie Davis) try to reconcile with the fact that their days are numbered with their daughter.
Meant to be moving and pensive with its ideas about death, Babyteeth instead proved to be such an overly long and fairly annoying film due to the characters being irritating in all of their actions. Milla gets it all started when she meets Moses on the train as she heads to school and what she finds attractive about him goes beyond me. From that moment forward, she refuses even the thought that he will not be part of her life and their bonding is meant to be seen as sweet. A couple of issues though, with one of them being he’s a 23-year-old with Milla being 16 and that he’s a complete loser in every sense of the word. This film then expects the audience to not only root for this inappropriate relationship but also put it on the parents to accept this reality. At first, they show reticence as anyone with any modicum of sense would, but then as the film continues to progress, things get more absurd.
On several occasions, I had to stare at a blank wall to try and decipher whether or not this film would commit to this problematic, at best, plotline. It would be one thing if Moses had some type of redeemable quality to him, but none of it ever gets expressed throughout the feature. What gets established is that he loves using recreational drugs to an alarming degree, which got him kicked out of his mother’s place and he has no real future. For the lack of development and background, it became shocking that this character would receive any sort of sympathetic light when he just needs to grow up and take care of himself. He’s 23 years old after all. It makes the decision of the parents towards the third act completely mind-boggling because they want to make their daughter happy as she lives her final days but this just gets to a degree of ridiculousness. In the end, they still need to act like parents and they fail to do that on multiple occasions throughout the story.
The only character, who gets any real meaningful progression is the lead, Milla who must face the reality of what life has in front of her. Putting together her terminal disease comes slowly as the beginning does not indicate as such. It becomes apparent as the narrative progresses but gets presented in a sensitive manner where the actual reveal has some resonance. In those moments, Eliza Scanlen shines as she has proven herself to be a strong actor. She has scenes where she nearly saves the horrendous plot she gets given but even she could not rectify the inherent flaws this film fails to reconcile.
At the center of it comes the lack of connectivity these characters presented through their actions and motivations. Nothing about them really feels human as they constantly defy logic at every step of the way, which works in comedy farces but not in a story meant to induce tears from the audience. With these issues, the runtime felt far too bloated for the little it actually accomplishes narratively, which certainly does not help with the lack of patience already remaining for these characters.
For having such a talented cast to bring forth this Australian story, Babyteeth grossly disappointed in so many floundering ways. It takes yet another weepy story about a teenager with a terminal illness and does nothing inventive with the premise. Instead, it takes all of the similar tropes and infuses a collection of insufferably idiotic characters to make you question why you should care for any of them.