Thursday, June 18, 2020

Movie with Abe: Babyteeth

Directed by Shannon Murphy
Released June 19, 2020

There are points in a person’s life where they’re seeking a connection that they’re not able to find anywhere. This can come in a moment of crisis, when circumstances change and leave someone feeling distinctly different from how they were before and in need of something new. Encountering someone who represents a fresh start or a completely different world can be therapeutic, but it can also be a troubling step towards uncertainty and instability, one that feels right explicitly because of its inherent wrongness, and which only other people can see may be a mistake.

Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is undergoing chemotherapy and keeping mostly to herself when she meets an older drug dealer, Moses (Toby Wallace). She soon becomes entranced with him despite repeated indications of his dishonest nature and his ulterior motives. Her mother Anna (Essie Davis) notices but lacks the ability to act on her observations because of the intense regimen of drugs her psychiatrist husband Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) has prescribed, and he’s far more focused on an alluring young neighbor than on his own family. Left mostly to her own devices, Milla begins to explore what life means for her and what she requires to make herself feel complete.

This film is immediately reminiscent of a recent Sundance Film Festival selection, “Dinner in America,” which also follows a young woman attracted to an obvious bad egg who makes little effort to hide who he is. This Australian production, adapted from screenwriter Rita Kalnejais’s play of the same name, feels entirely universal, unbound to a particular place or cultural condition. Milla has to contend with her own mortality at a young age, while her parents have retreated into an antisocial state where they feel powerless to effect any change to their own wellbeing. Moses is opportunistic and occasionally charming, and he shows up just when Milla desperately needs some excitement and danger in her life.

Scanlen is best known for her role in HBO’s “Sharp Objects” and in the most recent film version of “Little Women.” Here, she delivers an intoxicating, lived-in performance as Milla, who isn’t sure what she wants and is most interested in trying whatever feels right. Wallace has a fitting demeanor to play the objection of her affection, and Davis and Mendelsohn inhabit their characters with a recognizable resignation indicative of a dissatisfaction with where their lives have taken them. The finished product is initially captivating but ultimately less than satisfying, similar to the freewheeling behavior of its protagonist, a diversion from normal life that can’t possibly last forever.


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