Review: 'Babyteeth' finds honesty in its depiction of terminal illness

Eliza Scanlen stars in Aussie tale that avoids sentimental, weepy platitudes

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Calling "Babyteeth" an unconventional love story is only half of it.

This unorthodox, outside-the-box romance tells a tale of human longing and connection, and the way those things don't subscribe to any notions of logic, meaning or predictability. Same goes for the film. 

Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace in "Babyteeth."

Milla (Eliza Scanlen, "Sharp Objects") is a teenager who falls in love with a troubled drug dealer, Moses (Toby Wallace), whom she meets one morning on the train platform when he nearly plows her over and gets walloped by a speeding train. He's got face tattoos, a rat tail and is popping just as many pills as he's selling, which makes him less than ideal to Milla's parents, Anna (Essie Davis, "The Babadook") and Henry (Ben Mendelsohn). 

Anna and Henry have their own problems; she's living a pilled-up version of suburban disillusionment, he's a psychiatrist with no qualms writing loose scrips. And their daughter, it turns out, is suffering from an aggressive form of late-stage cancer. 

That Milla's cancer is not the first thing we learn about her is one of the storytelling aspects that helps "Babyteeth" stand out. There are plenty of movies about terminally ill teens but "Babyteeth" dodges clichés and finds the truth and honesty in its characters. 

"Babyteeth" marks the debut film from Australian Shannon Murphy, who directs from a screenplay by Rita Kalnejais, based on her play. She does get a little cutesy with title cards she assigns to the film like chapter headings, but she wrings terrific performances from her cast (Scanlen and Wallace are arresting) and builds to an emotional finish that is sweeping without being overwrought and and touching without being melodramatic. Same goes for "Babyteeth."  



Not rated: Drug use, profanity, sexual situations

Running time: 120 minutes