Babyteeth review: Eliza Scanlen ‘will make you cry’ in ‘superior teen romance’

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A staple of teen romance films of recent years has to be the doomed love stories of terminally ill young people, but is there way to portray the extremity of this situation that is both empathetic and not drowning in cliché?

Australia director Shannon Murphy makes her directorial debut in Babyteeth, which charts the difficult journey of teen Milla (Eliza Scanlen) as she undergoes cancer treatment, supported by her struggling but devoted parents: concert pianist Anna (The Babadook's Essie Davis) and psychiatrist Henry (Captain Marvel's Ben Mendelsohn).

Despite a focus on being well and utilising her available time effectively, Milla doesn’t feel truly alive until she meets the drug-addicted and tattooed rebel Moses (Tobey Wallace), an older man who is far from the type her parents would like as you can imagine.

As her parents are wary of the older interloper, a sweet and slow-to-develop courtship takes place, that also prompts Milla’s own parents to face up to their own marital issues and their fears and anxieties about what they want for their daughter.

Eliza Scanlen dons a blue wig as thoughtful Milla in Babyteeth

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Little Women actress Scanlen is a revelation here in a powerful lead role that sees her show the vulnerability, naivety and perceptiveness of her character with great ease. The Australian actress is a real find and her star is surely destined to keep ascending in Hollywood if she can make you cry like she will here.

Meanwhile, Wallace also thrives as the magnetic delinquent that pulls Milla into his orbit, while Davis and Mendelsohn bring their veteran chops to the table in the table in gruelling and heart-wrenching scenes that display the reality of every person’s worst nightmare and how this bleeds into their marriage and other relationships.

Toby Wallace romances Eliza Scanlen in Babyteeth

Is Milla destined to get her heart broken?

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With a style that is simultaneously both theatrical and lyrical, Murphy grounds the film in Milla’s experience but screenwriter Rita Kalnejais (based on her play of the same name) ensures that all of the central characters are fleshed out and the dynamics between them are as contradictory and messy as the situation Milla finds herself in.

Punctuated with moments of pop music, title cards, and thoughtful scenes of silence, the film contemplatively builds in emotion to a tear-jerking conclusion that will definitely have you reaching for a box of tissues.

Babyteeth is really bound to make you cry

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Ultimately, Babyteeth is a naturally romantic and moving film that proves one of the strongest of terminally-ill teen romances to hit cinemas in years and one that proves Eliza Scanlen and Shannon Murphy are both talents to watch.


Babyteeth is a profoundly moving tale of a young girl making the most of the time she has with her parents and lover, with stunning performances from Eliza Scanlen, Essie Davis, and Ben Mendelsohn.

Babyteeth is released in cinemas on August 14, 2020.

What is your favourite teen romance film? Let us know in the comments below.

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