Breathing beings get addicted, some to substance, while other to persons. If anyone happens to ask the question why? Then the most obvious and psychological reasoning to it would be, “We all are trying to fill our void.” Babyteeth directed by debut director Shannon Murphy might seem like a teenage love story, but it is much more layered than that. Sole reason would be, it’s not only the teens who feel the presence of void closely but adults can sense it too until they numb the feeling with substance.
Babyteeth written by Rita Kalnejais is based on her own stage play, the remarkable feature being, all characters are so vibrantly different that almost any audience bracket would resonate to them. Their exchanges vibrate with vulnerability and humor and the film is filled with such moments. On a broad judgement, it might be a Romeo-Juliet kinda story, but as Godard states, ‘It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.’ and Shannon Murphy surly makes the film, “A Part of the Sky.”
Babyteeth narrates the story of a dying teenage girl Milla (Eliza Scanlen), who falls in love for the first time in her life. When Milla meets Moses (Toby Wallace) for the first time, on a train station platform, an instant connection is established between the two. Moses compliments her hair, but she gets infatuated by an undisturbed attention, by a guy who is older, looks like rags with a scarred face. When Milla’s nose starts bleeding due to her nervousness, Moses, impartially helps her. The interaction between the two establishes an association on which the story is going to work further on. Moses asks Milla for money, because he is a kicked out rag who spends his day being stoned, but Milla doesn’t mind, she feels Moses can fill her emptiness. When the pieces fit together, it’s hard to look further.
However, their association isn’t approved by Milla’s parents, psychiatrist Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and former classical pianist Anna (Essie Davis). The overprotective parents suggest what could have created the void in Milla which makes her look for fulfillment outside the house. Though her parents are concerned that Moses is being a bad influence on Milla who is still a child. She studies in an all girls school, and has no experience with boys. She boasts about Moses saying, “He’s not afraid of anything,” and even gets protective of his actions. When Anna warns her, “That boy has problems,” Milla fights back, “So do I!“
Milla’s dependency for Moses while Moses enslavement to drugs creates a complicated web of need, desire and wants that weaves a perfectly narrated love story. What conflicts the narrative and makes it much more intriguing are the equally damaged adult characters. Every character screams (internally) for validation and fulfillment, in one way or the other, as said, for some it’s persons while others find their escape in substance.
Synonymous to Love
One might judge Moses for taking drugs, but why he takes it, is a much more important question to ask. Why does Milla find solace in Moses? I feel the answer to both questions is their own loneliness or looking for validation. Moses, who never actually had a family or a home, finds his escape through substance. While Milla who is isolated at school due to her cancer or overprotected at home lacks any personal love, but finds warmth in Moses. She thinks Moses loves her unconditionally, while for most of the period, he is just stoned and doesn’t care much. People who don’t care, don’t judge and when Milla finds it out, she gets tired of everything around. She wants to give rest to her overly painful body, which is too much for now.
Substance could be synonymous to Love, because the presence of it could make us complacent while the absence of it could be really painful, making our hearts heavy. Milla and Moses feel the same emotions, however, for different things, person and substance respectively.
Milla describes the notion in these lines said for Mose, “You are always a million miles away going, What can I get out of this person. You weren’t afraid of anything because you don’t give a shit.”
Milla’s parents whose marriage has been adrift due to Milla’s condition, which left her Mother Anna psychologically unwell. She takes doses of pills to keep her hysteria in check, but Milla’s isn’t the sole reason for it, she has a past of unfulfilled love too. Milla’s father Henry, who finds himself in the midst of this chaos, is always trying to maintain her sanity but when things get out of control, he injects himself too. Thus, it wouldn’t be wrong to say, the people fallen out of love or belongingness find their comfort in substance. And only the vice versa of it could reverse the damage,maybe.
Writer Rita Kalnejais has carved out each of the main four characters so precisely and sharply that their flaws look vibrant on screen. Thematically , each character is blemished by loneliness but the variability of the similar emotion in each character strikes differently that separates their personality. Thus, Babyteeth is a quartet where it feels like Henry, Anna, Mille, and Moses all equally share the screen: it’s their story, not just Milla’s.
Writers who have written for stage, have really a sense of peculiarities in their characters that makes them memorable. Intentionally going to Aaron Sorkin in that matter.
The teenage girl and illness combo is used in film so often it has become a cliche, a lazy shortcut so the lead male character can change. But Babyteeth doesn’t work that way. Cancer is just a shadow under which the characters are striving. Each one is grieving, and not dealing with it well, hence getting a plethora of events to grow and transform. Milla’s cancer is a chance for everyone to evolve. she becomes inspirational while her love becomes a transformative experience for both Moses.
When we talk about the dying girl, we all know what the outcome would be, still it’s the journey that matters, and for Baby Teeth it is electrifying and wanting. It keeps you engaged throughout, makes you fall in love once again and feel it, because there is nothing else we covet for, To love and To be loved more or Milla said in the end, “ I am going to enjoy becoming a part of the sky like this, dad.”
Babyteeth is streaming on Hulu.
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