Sixteen-year-old Milla (Eliza Scanlon) stands on a railway platform lost in thought, contemplating the rails below and how easy it would be to jump in front of the train, when suddenly someone bumps into her and she snaps out of it. Looking up, she sees that Moses (Toby Wallace) has jostled her and is instantly smitten for he is obviously a bad boy and something in the back of her emotions tells her she needs that in her life. They strike up a conversation as she misses her train to school, and so a friendship is developed, but how much is Moses exploiting Milla? After all, he is a drug dealer whose criminality has estranged him from his mother and younger brother: will Milla improve him?
Or will he drag her down with him? Babyteeth was a film full of bad choices, not artistically on the part of the filmmakers, but as far as the characters went, where they acted impulsively and if they were already messed up in their minds, those choices merely sent them further into a downward spiral. The message appeared to be that everyone was damaged or self-destructive in their way, or at least they were in suburban Australia, and negotiating the pitfalls life placed in your path was all you could hope for until such a large pitfall was in your way that you could do nothing to avoid it. From that moment on, you were more or less awaiting the end, so where did that leave you?
Did you try to make the best of the hand your life has dealt you, or do you develop some sense of self-awareness that could make things go a little better for you and those around you, depending on their behaviour, of course? Written from her play by Rita Kalnejais, this was determined to have the audience in tears by the time the end credits rolled, though not everyone was going to be triggered by its blatant manipulation and once you noticed it, aside from the abundance of quirks you could recognise the mechanics of a tearjerker played out before you surprisingly ruthlessly. That said, it certainly succeeded for many, and quickly became a cult movie, especially in its particular genre.
Yes, there was a genre here, not romantic comedy - though there were deliberate laughs scattered through the script - but the dying teenage girl weepie category that had become increasingly popular in the twenty-first century. You could go back to Love Story in 1970 for the origins of this, or even further for a Margaret Sullavan miseryfest from Hollywood, but for some reason the easiest method of getting a type of audience on your side was to kill off your main character for as long as it took to play out the story, in this case over two hours, which was a shade too indulgent. This prevalence of teen characters passing away as the others broke down around her was a curious phenomenon, perhaps the attraction stemming from Generation Z being told they were living in the End Times over and over.
Let's face it, if you're informed with deadly seriousness (literally deadly) that the world is about to wipe out humanity in climate change or pandemic of a combination of those things, you're going to start romanticising an early death as a way of coping and making your truncated time on Earth that bit more valid and worthwhile. Hence when we find out early on that Milla is suffering from cancer and it's probably terminal, the sympathy we feel makes her short life come across as if it has not been in vain, which renders her bizarre selection of the unworthy Moses as her partner to the end all the more eccentric and personality-building, so she has made an impact on society after all. What saved this from self-serving morbidity was the acting under Shannon Murphy's sure handed direction, Scanlon plainly set for bigger things if she wanted them, and Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn as Milla's parents barely getting by through this family crisis in a poignant yet oddly absurd manner: Wallace even managed to make his unpromising role as human as he could. Of its kind, and assuming this was really necessary, Babyteeth was one of the best. Music by Amanda Brown.