Babyteeth is a warm and familiar coming-of-age story but this time with the girl, Milla, coming to terms with her terminal illness. She changes her hair, clothes, wants a shag, wants to go to dances and get fucked up with strangers. It’s a Me, Earl and the Dying Girl but less sappy and from the dying girl’s perspective, and also Australian. The cast is a mix of a Greta Gerwig protégé, Eliza Scanlen, the boy from that crappy dystopian Netflix show, Toby Wallace, and Timmy’s dad from The King, Ben Mendelsohn.
The audience experience Milla’s world as she does, with Mallrat’s For Real playing on the train as she journeys into the city for a night of adventure, escaping her suburban family, or she lets her limbs loose as she dances to Come Meh Way, Sudan Archives. When she arrives sober (excluding her medication) at the party in the city, the neon lights and booming music overwhelm Milla as she journeys through each room with a different theme. She lands in a room with an old timey film projected on the wall, surrounded by the light, an alien-like creature crawls round Milla, stunned but also relishing in the experience and physical contact. This abstract scene stands out from the classic coming-of-age tropes of partying, rebellion, falling in love and adds a metaphysical or imagined world on top of the bleak reality of Milla’s impending death. It is Milla’s world we follow, with dancing, movement and life in a sea of waving lights.
The ecstasy of this night ends with disappointment in the boy she falls for and a serious life threat. The rebellion, danger and testing of limits in stories of revolting youth is heightened with the feeling her time is running out. I felt caught between Milla’s independence and joy and then her parents’ need to shield her from the threats of the world, to keep her in it for as long as they can. The lack of rationality and wildness in her story seems fitting with Milla, as death is not rational. Humans cannot make sense of death as we only know the experience of living.
The typical lessons from a coming-of-age film include learning to love your parents who are obstacles to independence, young people are drawn to the big city, and young love never lasts. These are covered and destroyed in Babyteeth with a beautiful Australian-drama alternative. The city and her first love leave her more broken than the illness, but then Milla realises her parents care defends their constraints, and we see their crumbling walls leave only pure love for their daughter.
We love Milla by the end, feeling her parents fear and awe for the woman she is becoming. But Milla does not get to finish her coming-of-age story. In a recent interview the director, Shannon Murphy described Babyteeth as “a film about how good it is not to be dead yet.” This is a perfect sentiment during life's constant reminders of mortality and isolation, that there is still joy to be found within the restrictions.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor