A gaggle of schoolgirls on a station platform. Most of them are casually chatting with each other, one of them stands slightly apart. Suddenly, someone runs into her from behind, almost pushing her into the oncoming train. It’s a man-boy in his early 20s, wearing shorts and a halfhearted haircut. Intrigued, she lets the train go on and carries on chatting to him.
Welcome to Milla and Moses, of sufficiently different ages for any relationship to be inappropriate. Yet, she’s clearly attracted to her and he sees something in her. Whether this is love, money, or an easy access to drugs via her physician father is a moot point. If he’s not off his face, he’s waiting for his next fix, so I guess he also represents something reckless to her that contrasts with her staid middle class family.
Milla takes Moses back to see her folks in a scene that I guess is supposed to be humorous but just went on too long for me. Milla’s mother is high on anti-depressants and so not in a good position to judge the junkie sitting opposite her. Her father watches on helplessly. He’s tried to give his daughter the freedom to make her own decisions but seems uneasy at the decisions she is making.
There’s a reason why these parents are indulgent of their only daughter. Milla has cancer and her long flowing hair is just a wig. Her mother and father have good grounds to believe that Moses is just taking her for a ride, but they see how much she has invested in him. And this could be her last investment. At one point, one fo them says “this is the worst possible parenting I can imagine”, but they don’t see what else they could do.
Some stuff happens. And then some other stuff happens. And its all preceded by quirky little titles like “Nausea”, “Insomnia” and “Fuck this” – there is a LOT of quirk in this film, much of it unnecessarily drawing attention to itself. You either love this stuff or get intensely irritated by it (you are left to guess how this pretentious shit affected me). But it felt to me so randomly structured, with no real development in character or plot. More things happen, and then we reach the inevitable tragic ending and it’s all over.
I think I need to make two qualifications here. Firstly, Babyteeth / Milla meets Moses (why the weird title for the German release?) is perfectly fine. The acting is generally good, and Eliza Scanlen as Milla is compellingly sympathetic. But the critics have gone wild about it, so it feels like I need to justify the lacklustre nature of my “perfectly fine” rating.
Which is where my second qualification comes in. I really didn’t feel much for Moses. Look, I know I’m not supposed to like him in the way that Milla likes him – much of the dramatic tension comes from the tension between her idealised version of him and how her parents suspect he really is. But this is all based on his apparent charm, which just doesn’t hit me at all.
So my problem is not that I don’t like Moses – there are plenty of dramatic heroes who an audience loves to hate, as the cliché goes. It’s that I find him inconsequential and boring. I just don’t care enough about what he does. Which is a slight problem, as this is what most of the film is about.
What this also means is that as we approach the obligatory sentimental ending, I just didn’t have enough invested. It may be worth acknowledging that the film could have been way more manipulative than it ultimately is. But a tragedy is only tragic if you care about the characters. And while Milla is interesting as an individual, I found it hard to grieve alongside the largely uninteresting people around her.
I enjoyed the idea of Babyteeth much more than I enjoyed the film itself. Let me repeat, it was perfectly fine, but I never had the feeling that I was experiencing anything that really matters. I mean, great that it wasn’t about stereotypical male superheroes hitting each other, but there was little there for me (at least) to really love.
Sorry, Babyteeth. It’s not you, its me.