I wondered how long it would take for the scales to fall from my eyes, and my excitement over the re-opening of cinemas to be shattered, I hoped it would be a while yet, at least longer than it has been, but with this film, my patience finally ran out.
Everything about this film seemed so promising as well, an independent film about an unconventional relationship in a different setting than usual, but understand, dear reader, that there exists a fine line in independent film-making between being an auteur, and being pretentious.
It is unlike me to show my hand this early in a review, but I wanted to show how much this film deflated me, after so long being away from the cinema, waiting for fir the day to come when I could go back, Babyteeth made me want to leave the cinema. Not even An American Pickle managed that, that was bland but had some entertainment value, this film was both dull, and profoundly in love with itself, a deadly duo when it comes to films.
So, what’s this film about then? Well, it charts the unlikely, and unconventional, relationship between Milla (Eliza Scanlen) and Moses (Toby Wallace) the former being a seriously-ill schoolgirl and the latter being a small-time drug dealer, estranged from his own family. A match made in heaven, I’m sure you’ll agree.
I use the term ‘story’ very loosely, as Babyteeth very rarely resembles a narrative, but rather it is a string of events barely connected all concerning one specific group of people; its cause is not helped by an incredible lack of focus and wild incongruity of tone.
Young people dying of cancer are, understandably, a very difficult subject matter, in fact, you’d be forgiven for not even guessing Milla was ill judging by the trailers, which makes the film look like a drama about a poorly-matched young couple, something which it is, but it resembles other films in that genre as much as dolphins resemble other mammals.
It’s the kind of film that goes over well at festivals, where some attendees tend to also be pretentious, but goes over as well with a regular audience as a round of bacon sandwiches at a synagogue; I’m hardly what I would label as a ‘casual’ audience member, but I found myself bored about ten minutes in, and it didn’t get any better from there.
As much as a boring film is the very worst kind (at least a bad film can be laughed at, a boring film has to be endured) what makes it so many measures worse is how much it seems to be in love with itself; it makes me think of a full-of-themselves director thinking they’re making some very important masterpiece worthy of Picasso when in reality they’re working with finger-paintings.
Rather than focus on the very strong narrative opportunities of the seriously-ill girl, and the characters that surround her, the film instead opts to be as obtuse as possible, explaining the patently obvious in scenes with intrusive and unnecessary captions on-screen every ten minutes, often describing what can be obviously seen within seconds, such as the first one, which says something along the lines of: ‘Milla and Moses meet on Platform 4’ we can see they’re meeting, what was the need in the caption? It’s not as if this is a singular occurrence, it happens for every scene, and again just comes across as self-importance, the work of a screenwriter who is so pleased with themselves they feel like they need to give a visible name to each scene. Or perhaps the scene headings in the script were put onto the screen by accident?
As a result of its wishy-washy script, we feel disconnected from every character we’re supposed to be sympathising with. Moses just makes me uncomfortable, as does his on-screen relationship with Milla (he is said to be 23, she is still in school so is 16 at the most) and the parents are both hopeless characters with their own problems that aren’t explored in any amount of depth, so the audience is given no reason to care. We are supposed to buy into this relationship, I suppose, but as I say, it just seems really creepy given their age difference.
The script is erratic too, introducing side plots and dropping them as quickly as they arrive. There’s a side story about a pregnant neighbour, which adds nothing and ultimately goes nowhere, so you wonder why she’s even there, she’s mainly just set dressing in the larger group scenes, and other than that is inserted needlessly and unnecessarily, like a double-decker bus in a bread bin. Even the characters that are crucial to the story get needless subplots that add absolutely nothing to the overall narrative and makes the film just feel like a mess.
I think what ultimately made me dislike this film the most was its final third; in which it over-stretches itself, gives itself far too much credit and takes the story in a much darker route, something it is very ill-prepared for. It’s unearned, following a very slap-dash plot leading up to that point, and any emotional impact is non-existent because the writer and director have made sure that we don’t care for any of the characters; then, to make matters worse, it didn’t know when to end, adding on an entirely unneeded epilogue that dealt with something we didn’t really care about, again, I am thinking of a screenwriter who just doesn’t want to finish writing their magnum opus, I might have suggested that not starting it might have been more prudent.
I feel sorry for the actors in this film too, who all gave really good performances, in spite of the lacklustre script and seemingly absurd direction. Had the cast also been a wash then maybe I would have lost all patience and left this film early (something I’ve never done) but I felt bad for the cast who were all giving their all to present this obnoxious film as something with any depth, which must have been hard, as it has all the depth of a teaspoon.
It’s a film that tries to trick you into believing that it’s emotionally complex because of its subject matter but falls down in the way it handles said material, it takes more skill than either the director or screenwriter possesses to do such a terrible condition justice, and films like this just makes it another narrative tool and robs it of all impact.
I feel utterly deflated by this film, such a subject matter handled by a pretentious director who was more focused on showing off than presenting an engaging narrative, not only does that annoy me, but the fact that the film is so boring really tops it off, there are several scenes where nothing of any note happens, it’s indicative of this films problem that it feels so bloated, yet so insubstantial.
In conclusion, I was actively annoyed by this film, a feeling that only grew as it crawled towards its climax; my only emotional connection being that of pity towards the actors giving their all towards a film that has nothing going for it at all. Avoid at all costs.