Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy, 2019)
Based on a stage play by Rita Kalnejais, this is a black comedy and a coming of age story and a Fault in Our Stars cousin. It is by turns hilarious and scary and moving, although it skips over something at its heart.
Milla Finlay (Eliza Scanlen) is an Australian teen with recurring cancer — we are given limited details, it seems relatively clean, but she does lose her hair. At the station on the way back from school, Moses (Toby Wallace) — drug user and probable addict, petty thief, estranged son — falls into her life and she offers him money in return for a haircut and invites him home.
Home is owned by Henry (Ben Mendelesohn), psychiatrist, and Anna (Essie Davis), ex-professional musician and pill popper, who seem to be remarkably tolerant and liberal parents whilst also being hyperprotective (for obvious reasons). At the the same time, they are not adverse to a weekly quicky at his surgery and Henry’s use of prescriptions is a little corrupt. This is all mostly played for laughs — although there’s much bad parenting. It all risks being a little clean.
And it perhaps distracts from the star-crossed lovers, and the unspoken age difference between them that Moses does seem to respect. Wallace’s is a remarkable performance — moody, fragile, hapless, dancing, although one can help but feel in the real world he would have been arrested multiple times. For that matter, Finlay seems older than her years a child not doubt forced to grow up but she will almost certainly die young. Repeatedly she asserts her agency, but there are people there to pick her up when she falls.
If the trajectory is inevitable — a make or break night of her sixteenth birthday whilst the rest of the cast have rushed a neighbour to hospital to give birth — it is bloodless but certainly not without its moral complexities. And the final scene, a flashback, makes whatever happens next more complicated.
But it is a too clean film, antiseptic at times, tending to the vignette-ish with captioned sections, massaging the time frame between minutes and days and months.