(director/writer: Shannon Murphy; screenwriter:Rita Kalnejais/from the play by Rita Kalnejais; cinematographer: Andrew Commis; editor: Steve Evans; music: Amanda Brown; cast: Ben Mendelsohn (Henry), Essie Davis (Anna),  Toby Wallace (Moses), Eliza Scanlen (Milla), Emily Barclay (Toby), Eugene Gilfedder (Gidon), Edward Lau (Tin Wah), Zack Grech (Isaac), Georgina Symes (Polly), Michelle Lotters (Scarlett); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alex White; IFC Films; 2019-Australia)

It works somewhat as a dramedy, but not enough to satisfy me.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time director Shannon Murphy, a stage and TV director, works from a script by Rita Kalnejais, who adapts it from her own play. It tells a freaky coming-of-age story about its teenage heroine’s growing pains of dealing with terminal cancer, a junkie drug-dealer boyfriend and disapproving parents.

The indie pic is mounted with short chapters that come with cutesy titles, that are written in a candy-colored text. It shoots for its eccentric characters to carry the film while going lite on their character development. It works somewhat as a dramedy, but not enough to satisfy me. It’s awkwardness and the silly performances it gets from its two veteran actors, Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis, made me wince too often.

After meeting on the cute at the Sydney train station, the 16 year-old Milla (Eliza Scanlen), in the middle of chemo treatment for cancer, brings the guy home who picked her up at the station, the 23 year-old Moses (Toby Wallace), Moses is a junkie, who has been thrown out of his family home after a few bad incidents. 

Milla’s dad Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a psychiatrist, working out of a home office. Her neurotic mom Anna (Essie Davis) is miserable and is dependent on Xanax and Zoloft to get by.

In another goofy scene, we have a pregnant new neighbor move in across the street from the family. The neighbor, Toby (Emily Barclay), just happens to have a dog named Henry, and shamelessly flirts with a receptive Henry as she regularly walks by his house while taking her dog for a walk.

Meanwhile mom is alarmed over her daughter’s troublesome date, warning Milla to lose the deadbeat.

When Milla takes off her wig and looks at her bald head in the mirror, she can’t comprehend all the grief she feels and we are led to forgive her out of pity for falling for such a loser.

Another wacky character is Milla’s violin teacher, Gidon (Eugene Gilfedder). He spitefully tells Milla off by saying that “Everything you touch, you destroy.”

It seems to be a film desperately trying to be real, funny and significant, but only touches on the surface of things. The girl hopes she has found true love, the bad-apple guy figures he can score drugs in a shrink’s house, while mom is a pathetic figure and the seemingly together dad is hiding a dark side that leaves him vulnerable.

There are some laughs and some life lessons to be learned, but it’s an uneven film that can’t shake free from looking too much like a mediocre TV sitcom.

Babyteeth (2019)

REVIEWED ON 6/26/2020  GRADE:  C+