Ross brothers find truth in fiction in BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS


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bloodyCharles Bukowski would recognize the habitués of Las Vegas dive bar the Roaring 20s. So, would you if you put in any time in a bar that is welcoming enough and has been around long enough to attract a dedicated family of regulars. One of those places that doesn’t call itself a “cocktail lounge” and doesn’t employ mixologists, but a joint for a beer and a shot among strangers who become friends. And for the regulars at the Roaring 20s in Bill and Turner Ross’ shambling, engaging documentary, it is time to spend one last night together there as “last call” really is just that for a watering hole about to close forever.

The twist is that Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is not a documentary at all. There never was a Roaring 20s in Las Vegas. The Ross brothers shot some of the shabbier, off-the-Strip streets way back in 2009 shortly after the big financial implosion. But nearly a decade went by before they circled back around to that Sin City footage. In the interim, the siblings upped their profile with the releases of Tchoupitoulas (2012), Western (2015), and Contemporary Color (2016).

Revisiting their Las Vegas idea, they opted not to revisit Las Vegas, instead auditioning bars in their own city New Orleans, eventually finding one with the right timeworn but inviting ambiance. Then they populated the place with a large ensemble of barflies, some actors, others one suspects not, and allows them to improvise their way through the Roaring 20s’ last hurrah. The Rosses make no attempt to hide their cameras, so the film crew, too, becomes part of the mise en scène.

Anchoring the story’s kitchen-sink realism is weathered, white-haired Michael Martin, playing a homeless regular who is the first customer in the door in the morning and the last to leave in the wee hours of the next day. He is gruff but friendly, helpful, and he has no illusions about his life. As the final minutes count down on the Roaring 20s, he counsels Pete (Peter Elwell), a young musician following Michael’s same path of dissipation, “I’m 58. I look 70. I used to be an actor and I used to be pretty good at it… You need to get out of here while you’re still a musician.”

Not all of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is that heavy. There are moments of humor, scenes of affection between people who exist together only in this space and know they may never be together again, the nostalgia that comes from the realization that something is coming to an end, and the petty, drunken spats that erupt when booze flows like water.

From the opening frames as Michael makes his way down a shabby street on his way to the bar, Buck Owens’ ’60s country classic “Big in Vegas” striking a plaintive note on the soundtrack, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets sets a bittersweet tone. Set in the here and now (the day after Trump’s election, in fact), the muted tones of the cinematography and the nature of tipplers who scarcely seem to exist outside of their favorite dive give the film a timeless quality: It could have been set at any time in the last 50 years and little would change, except at one time Michael would have been the young actor on the receiving end of a friendly lecture.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is an impressive feat for the Ross brothers and their large ensemble. For all of its artifice, a kind of truth emerges. Maybe not actual facts, but there is an undeniable sense of emotional veracity that imbues every frame. The film might not fit a documentary’s traditional parameters, but the emotions and personalities that inhabit it lend it a verisimilitude that make it more real than any reality show and far more resonant. –Pam Grady

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets plays at the Roxie Theater Virtual Cinema starting July 24. Bill & Turner Ross will take part in a Zoom discussion, 5 P.M., July 29.


THE 11TH GREEN tees off


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11TH GREENWhat if aliens really did walk among us? What if they brought us technology that could solve the world’s thirst for energy without destroying the planet? What if there were government entities whose sole mission, going back decades, was to keep all of this a secret in order to preserve the status quo? What if every American president was in on it, but was prevailed upon to never reveal the truth? What if a gadfly reporter stumbled upon all this? These questions are the starting point for writer/director Christopher Munch’s sometimes intriguing, sometimes silly sci-fi drama The 11th Green.

Munch, who previously made Letters from the Big Man (2011), the tale of a woman’s involvement with a sasquatch, goes X-Files with a film that runs on two tracks. In one, journalist Jeremy Rudd (Campbell Scott) travels to California when his Air Force officer father, Nelson (Monte Markham), dies. Revelations from Laurie Larkspur (Agnes Bruckner), his dad’s comely last assistant, and the old man’s protégé Larry Jacobsen (Currie Graham), a slippery intelligence operative, convince Jeremy he is on to a big story. Meanwhile, the president of the United States (Leith M. Burke) – nameless, but clearly Barack Obama, right down to a childhood connection to Hawaii – communes with President Dwight Eisenhower (George Gerdes) and an ET named Lars (Tom Stokes), receiving the country’s most closely guarded secrets.

While seemingly tailormade for the QAnon conspiracy aficionados among us – that phrase “Deep State” gets bandied about a lot – The 11th Green is entertaining even for those unwilling to buy into its lunacy. The main location in California’s high desert is evocative and occasionally amusing with the golf course the title refers to providing a bridge between the Eisenhower era and the present day. Scott brings his low-key charm to the tale, while Graham is cheerfully sleazy and Burke makes a convincing stand-in for Obama.

At times, one wishes that someone like David Lynch were the director. In particular, it is easy to imagine the scenes involving the President, Eisenhower, and Lars achieving the eerie aura of Twin Peaks and its Red Room, but Munch never quite gets there.

Also, what is the deal with Lars? He looks like white, European Jesus and Stokes’ stilted performance is perhaps meant to suggest an extraterrestrial’s otherness, but he only comes across as jarringly artificial. And a subplot involving James Forrestal (Ian Hart), the United States’ first Secretary of Defense, a man who in real life suffered from depression and committed suicide, is tasteless.

The 11th Green is handsomely shot with exceptional production design, two more pluses in one mixed bag. It is one of those movies that is both entertaining and irritating, sometimes at the exact same moment. Ultimately, Munch manages to avoid most of the sand traps and other hazards he sets for himself and keeps The 11th Green on the fairway. Mostly. –Pam Grady

The 11th Green is playing at the Roxie Virtual Cinema.





Ganz takes a lovely final bow in The Tobacconist


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Tobacconist 3Bruno Ganz famously played Hitler in Downfall. Now, in one of his final roles in Nicolaus Leytner’s The Tobacconist, he steps into the role of Sigmund Freud, a man who might have been one of the Fuhrer’s victims had he not been to flee to England. Ganz’s delightful performance portraying the warm, soft side of the father of psychoanalysis is a ray of light in this otherwise dark drama set in pre-war Vienna.

Freud is not the protagonist of the tale, an adaptation of Robert Seethaler’s novel. That would be Franz Huchel (Simon Morzé), a young man sent by his mother from the rural hinterlands to Vienna to apprentice with tobacconist Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch). The big city proves eye-opening for Franz, who quickly becomes besotted with flirty, gap-toothed Bohemian immigrant Agnezka (Emma Drogunova), a spiritual sister to Cabaret‘s Sally Bowles. At the shop, Freud is among the regular customers, and the two form an unexpected bond, the older man compassionate toward Franz’s romantic travails and providing an ear for the youth to talk about his vivid dreams.

Set in another era, The Tobacconist might have been a sunny coming-of-age tale of first love and offbeat friendship. But this is Vienna during the rise of the Nazis. From Otto, a World War I vet who gave up a leg for the Fatherland and will not bow to the Nazis, Franz learns as much about politics as he does about the care of Havana cigars. From Agnezka he learns about the vagaries of love. From Freud, he learns that he is not in the world to find answers, but to ask questions. From Freud and Otto both, he learns just how far he is willing to go for a friend, a lesson that takes on new urgency under the pall of Nazi occupation.

Leytner’s imaginative staging of Franz’s dreams – Franz confronting an iceberg in one, an apparently nude and recumbent Freud drifting a rowboat in another – and the flights of his imagination add a layer of surrealism to the drama. Even the most benign exchange with a Nazi amps up the tension, lending The Tobacconist the aura of a thriller. It has elements of romance in Franz’s awkward courtship of Agnezka. Then there is the friendship between Franz and Freud, an initially unlikely relationship the blossoms into a special connection for both men. The scenes between Ganz as the wise doctor and the naïve youth inject the film with welcome warmth.

The Tobacconist is not the last film that Ganz made before his 2019 death, but it is apparently the final one to screen in the US.  The actor’s performance is one of immense charm. His Freud represents a lovely final bow, as the curtain comes down on an acting giant’s 60-year career. –Pam Grady

The Tobacconist opens July 10 at the Balboa Theatre/Cinema SF and other virtual screening rooms.

Deneuve and Binoche discover THE TRUTH


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LA+VERITE+1An icon plays an icon as Catherine Deneuve steps into the role of a French cinema legend who reunites for a rocky reunion with her screenwriter daughter (Juliette Binoche) in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s elegant drama The Truth. The Japanese master delivers his first film made outside his home country, in French and English – two languages not his own, and loses not a step in an intimate drama that unfolds between the family home and a Paris soundstage.

What brings Lumir (Binoche) back into her screen star mother Fabienne’s (Deneuve) orbit is the publication of Fabienne’s memoir. Arriving with her American TV actor husband Hank (a delightfully rakish Ethan Hawke) and young daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) at her childhood home (which somehow abuts a prison – no heavy-handed symbolism there!), Lumir has her back up, ready for battle with her difficult parent. The memoir full of Fabienne’s selective memories doesn’t help. Luc (Alain Libolt), the manager who has seen to all the little details of Fabienne’s life, is never mentioned in the book. More enraging for Lumir, neither is Suzanne, her mother’s late friend and fellow actress, and a woman with a warmer maternal instinct toward Lumir than self-absorbed Fabienne.

The fact that Fabienne’s latest role opposite rising star Manon (Manon Clavel) is a mother-daughter sci-fi drama only underlines the tensions in the real-life relationship. Nevertheless, even as Fabienne’s familiar brusqueness, selfishness, and lack of filter grate on Lumir, the daughter stays, going so far as becoming a kind of assistant, accompanying her mom to the set every day.

Fabienne is a monster mother, a narcissist who is at an age where she cannot even be bothered with social niceties, yet she is not lacking in self-awareness. Deneuve plays her brilliantly. Fabienne can be cruel – she does not hesitate to insult her son-in-law’s acting talent, for example – but on a certain level she understands what her egotism has cost her. She loves and needs her daughter. She understands how she hurt Luc in leaving him out of her book. She even grasps that her catty attitude toward Manon has less to do with an upstart taking her role in the spotlight than how the young woman reminds her and Lumir of Suzanne.

The film-within-a-film spins the tale of an astronaut, returned to Earth after a long voyage and untouched by age, communing with a daughter now older than she, and symbolizes the relathionship between Fabienne and Lumir. One has the impression, Lumir was the more emotionally mature one from a young age, and Fabienne is now just beginning to catch up.

Kore-eda begins his story in summer, ending his story as winter descends on Paris. It’s a delightful irony for a tale that begins with a seemingly insurmountable emotional iceberg between mother and daughter only to unexpectedly thaw. An exploration of love and anger, of a parent’s mistakes and a child’s resentment gradually transforms into something warmer and more generous, an acknowledgement that at least some of the time, it is possible to move past the hurt and forge a stronger bond. The performances by Deneuve and Binoche, these giants of French cinema, are spectacular, as they explore the tension and the love between two complicated women searching for, as the film’s title suggests, a kind of truth.  – Pam Grady

The Truth is playing in selected theaters and is available on VOD platforms.

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA paints devastating portrait of state-sanctioned brutality


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chechnya05The situation for gays and lesbians in Chechnya is beyond harrowing. They face arrest, torture, and sometimes execution. If they survive that, they are delivered back to their families with the suggestion that their kin finish the job of killing them. Some have joined the ranks of the world’s disappeared. This special project of strongman president Ramzan Kadyrov “to cleanse the blood” of the country’s LGBTQ population has been under way since 2016 with barely any notice from the rest of the world. Oscar-nominated filmmaker David France’s (How to Survive a Plague) tense, devastating documentary reveals the depth of an ongoing genocide and the efforts of Russian activists to rescue the victims of the atrocities.

Grisha, a 30-year-old Russian event planner who had the misfortune to be working in Chechnya, and Anya, in danger of being outed to her government official father, are among the people Crisis Response Coordinator David Isteev and his colleagues at the Russian LGBT Network try to help during the course of Welcome to Chechnya. It is a fraught operation as Isteev others travel back and forth to Chechnya, spiriting people out of the country and into Russian safehouses until visas can be secured and lives can begin anew as refugees in safer countries.

It is perilous work, not the least because Russia itself is a profoundly homophobic nation, and it is a little bit like trying to sop up an ocean with paper towels. At the point where Welcome to Chechnya ends, Isteev and his colleagues had aided 151 people – with 40,000 more still at risk. The film itself would not have been possible without new technology that allowed France to mask the identities of his subjects by digitally replacing their visages with others acting as “face doubles.” Voice doubles were also used to further ensure that the documentary would not endanger lives.

France and his small crew used consumer-grade cameras, cell phones, and GoPro and to blend in as tourists in order to follow Isteev and his associates on missions and the journeys of several people they smuggle out of Chechnya. The rescue scenes are intense, the knowledge that one wrong move can lead to exposure and arrest making the terror palpable. At safe houses, there is sometimes euphoria but also frustration and fear as men and women wait for word on the visas that will allow them to leave Russia and settle elsewhere as refugees. “Safe” is also a relative term in a country like Russia that has its own outbursts of anti-LGBTQ violence, making anxiety a constant companion.

France finds unassuming heroes in Isteev and Olga Baranova, founding director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives, as they quietly risk their own lives and freedom in the service of others.

Among the refugees, Grisha emerges as an extraordinary individual. Because he is Russian, the Chechnyan authorities realize belatedly that he could make trouble for them in a way that everyday Chechnyans cannot. There is a target on his back and that of his partner and family. How he responds to that threat makes for some of Welcome to Chechnya‘s most riveting scenes.

The documentary, which is airing on HBO, can make for rough viewing, particularly in footage France discovered and includes of the brutality inflicted on the victims by the Chechnyan authorities and sometimes their families. It is also necessary viewing, a wakeup call to the world of state-sanctioned violence that has gone on unabated for five long years. Welcome to Chechnya starkly makes clear the terrible price LGBTQ people have paid for the international community’s inattention and willful ignorance –Pam Grady



HAMILTON dazzles in stream debut


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Hamilton_Miranda_Odom_2Theater geeks everywhere will rejoice and many who would consider themselves impervious to the charms of a Broadway musical will find themselves seduced as Hamilton drops on Disney+ on July 3. Filmed four years while the original cast was still intact, but not intended for a theatrical release until the fall of 2021, with COVID-19 putting pause to the Broadway and road companies, the decision to push the date up by over a year and put it on the streaming service is a welcome one. No doubt there is a business calculation involved. Disney+ can expect to gain X number of subscribers through this shrewd move. But ultimately, who cares about the company’s motivation? Hamilton is here.

But does it live up to the hype? Emphatically, yes. The show that opened to big box office and multiple awards off-Broadway in 2015 before moving onto Broadway later that year, garnering a record-setting 16 Tony nominations and 11 awards, and eventually winning playwright-lyricist-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda a Pulitzer Prize deserves all of its accolades. The United States’ first Treasury Secretary’s life unfolds through 46 songs, ranging from traditional musical theater showstoppers to hip hop and nearly all of them earworms. The cast – led by Miranda as Hamilton, Leslie Odom, Jr. as his rival Aaron Burr, Daveed Diggs in the dual roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson,  Christopher Jackson as George Washington, Jonathan Groff as King George, Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton, and Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler – is perfection. And while some historians have groused about the accuracy of the events portrayed, Hamilton accomplishes what all the best fiction spun from historical events does – it piques audience interest in discovering the real story.Hamilton_DiggsTo adapt the play to the screen, director Thomas Kail filmed several actual live performances along with performances staged strictly for award-winning cinematographer Declan Quinn’s cameras, a set-up that included a Steadicam. This is not a Hamilton that even its most ardent fans have seen before. Close-ups reveal nuances to the performances lost to distance from the stage and provides a privileged vantage point from which to view Andy Blankenbuehler’s Tony-winning choreography. Jonah Moran’s editing injects a burst of new energy into an already adrenalin-fueled musical. Every performer, from Miranda and Odom to the ensemble, brings their A-game.

In the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic, Hamilton offers a ray of light. Despite the eventual tragedy of Alexander Hamilton’s life, this musical is a burst of joy, something in far too short supply these days. To borrow the title from one of the show’s songs, the filmed Hamilton gives audiences the opportunity to see the show in “The Room Where It Happened.” Take it. –Pam Grady


Pixar drops SOUL sneak peak


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SOULDisney and Pixar’s SOUL is not scheduled for release Nov. 20, 2020, but there is a brand new sneak peek of the animated fantasy about a middle-school music teacher and pianist (Jamie Foxx) who gets the golden opportunity to play with a renowned jazz musician’s (Angela Bassett) quartet. But that plan goes awry when he finds himself in The Great Before – the place where souls go to get their, well, soul before they join their human hosts on Earth.

The sneak premiered June 27 as part of the Essence Festival of Culture when Soul director Pete Docter, co-director and screenwriter Kemp Powers,  and producer Dana Murray joined culture consultants to the film, anthropologist/educator Dr. Johnetta Cole and jazz pianist Jon Batiste (who also arranged and composed music for the film) for a virtual panel, “Finding Soul.” Included in the clip is Cody ChesnuTT performing his song “Parting Ways.”



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ella 2In 1934, a 17-year-old girl with skinny legs and a stained dress ascended to the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater for Amateur Night. She wanted to be dancer, but as she watched Apollo stars the Edwards Sisters’ agile footwork during the pro part of the evening, she knew she could not follow that. So, she switched gears, opened her mouth to sing and Ella Fitzgerald began her legend. Leslie Woodhead, who began his documentary directing career in 1969 with The Stones in the Park and has made films on everything from the Polish Solidarity movement to the post-9/11 manhunt for Osama bin Laden to Princess Diana, pays glorious homage to the First Lady of Song with this spellbinding documentary.

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things is tailormade for Fitzgerald’s fans with its wealth of archival performances but it is also a splendid introduction to the artist. The doc fills in the biographical details of her life, while also offering a scintillating picture of a singular career in which she became known for her scat singing, novelty hits, and mastery of the Great American Songbook. There are plenty of interviews with performers ranging from those who knew Fitzgerald like Tony Bennett and Cleo Laine to a new generation in awe of her talent like Laura Mvula and Jamie Cullum. Fitzgerald’s son, musician Ray Brown Jr., writer and critic Margo Jefferson, and Fitzgerald biographer Judith Tick add further details to the portrait.

Nonagenarian dancer Norma Miller sets the stage for the documentary as she recalls being a 14-year-old in the balcony of the Apollo during that first performance, she and her friends laughing at the bedraggled teen – laughter that stopped when Ella started to sing. By 1935, Fitzgerad was the vocalist for bandleader Chick Webb. At 21 in 1938, she had her first number one hit with “A-Tisket-A-Tasket.”

From hardscrabble beginnings, Fitzgerald rose to worldwide stardom despite the racism that dogged her throughout her career. Segregated facilities and top nightclubs that would not book her despite her fame were only the tip of the iceberg. A frequent guest on TV variety shows, she longed for a series of her own, but could only get one TV special. Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things contains excerpts from a radio interview she did in the early 1960s in which a singer who rarely talked about politics or social issues frankly discussed racism. The interview never aired.

Twenty-four years after her death, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things pays fitting tribute to one of the 20th century’s greatest performers. Among the songs to which she put her signature was George and Ira Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” The title is an understatement when describing Fitzgerald’s brilliant career, as this documentary so fascinatingly reveals. –Pam Grady

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things is available at the Roxie and other virtual cinemas through July 10.

On Sunday, June 28, 7pm ET/4pm PT, the Roxie hosts a Q&A with producer Reggie Nadelson, author and critic Margo Jefferson, singer and musician Camille Thurman, and journalist Will Friedwald. To RSVP:






IRRESISTIBLE: Simply too resistible


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Chris Cooper is always a welcome sight, and he certainly is in Irresistible. Casting him is one of the few things writer/director Jon Stewart gets right in a political satire that is all too easy to resist. In our politically polarized times, all Americans might just agree for once: The movie is a fail.

What Stewart clearly wants is to make a modern-day The Great McGinty, Preston Sturges’ antic and deliriously funny 1940 screwball comedy lampooning corruption in American politics. An admirable ambition to be sure, but Stewart lacks Sturges’ wit and he is hamstrung trying to satirize an era in which a game show host is the president of the United States. The satire, such as it is, is modern American history

Stewart casts Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, the Democratic Party’s top strategist and spin doctor. Living with the ignominy of watching all his work go for naught when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, he is a man in desperate need of a win. When he sees a viral video of retired Marine Colonel and dairy farmer Jack Hastings (Cooper) at a Deerlaken, Wisconsin, town council meeting passionately speaking up on behalf of undocumented workers, Gary has a brainstorm. Looking for his own redemption after the 2016 debacle, he wants to run Hastings in Deerlaken’s mayoral contest, a first step toward proving the Democrats can win in the America’s heartland.

From that set-up, Irresistible misfires in all directions. The My Fair Lady-like plot with Hastings as a political Eliza Doolittle to Gary’s Henry Higgins defies belief. Why would an apparently moral and ethical man go along with Gary’s scheming? Cooper also appears to be in an entirely different movie than that of the rest of the cast, particularly Carell and Rose Byrne as Gary’s Republican counterpart Faith Brewster, who comes to Deerlaken to work on the incumbent mayor’s campaign. Cooper is such a confident and truthful actor that he convinces even as he plays an underwritten character. But Carell and Byrne flail in cartoonish roles, mugging helplessly for the camera.

Irresistible‘s worst sin is that it is not funny. Not a bit. Stewart, the man who used to so nimbly navigate political satire as a writer as well as the host of The Daily Show, has penned a screenplay shockingly laugh free. In a way, Stewart is like his main character, someone dispirited and poleaxed by Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the Trump presidency. Irresistible is his attempt to grapple with these last long four years, but not only is this an era that defies satire, Stewart’s sense of humor has fled under the onslaught. Under those conditions, the failure of Irresistible is only too predictable. –Pam Grady

Ailing teen seeks prescription in bad boy in Australian BABYTEETH


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babyteeth 3Moses (Toby Wallace, Boys in Trees) is every parent’s worst nightmare: A feral, homeless, and heavily tattooed drug dealer with sticky fingers and a terrible mullet. At 23, he is also far too old for 15-year-old Milla (Eliza Scanlen, Little Women‘s Beth). But the heart wants what it wants and Milla wants Moses and she is seriously ill, leaving psychiatrist Henry (Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom) and classical musician Anna (Essie Davis, The Babadook) to feel they have little choice but to let the ebullient felon into their lives. In the world of Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth that accommodation to a situation neither parent wants is a moment of clarity: Henry and Anna cannot fix what is wrong with Milla, but they can allow her a small bit of control in a situation in which she otherwise has none.

The word “cancer” is never uttered in Rita Kalnejais’ script adapted from her own play. Nor are there any scenes in hospital. When Milla is first introduced on a Sydney train platform, only a nosebleed suggests she is any different than any other schoolgirl. But it is not long before her golden tresses are only a wig covering a bald pate. She still goes to school and takes her violin lessons in a bid for a sense of normalcy, but her alliance with Moses is not simply a crush on a bad boy. He is freedom and escape from everyday routine and from illness. Moses’ vivacious nature also appeals, a marked contrast from her parents’ obsessive worry. Besides, in a weird way, Moses fits right in with the dysfunctional family dynamic, everyone sharing a certain bent for chemical relief, whether through pot or pharmaceuticals.

Given the heaviness of the subject matter, Babyteeth is often surprisingly light. It is a story not without humor. The four leads are outstanding, particularly Wallace, winner of the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival. Moses is a tricky character, as changeable as the weather, sometimes appearing to be the warmhearted boy Milla needs him to be, while other times showing a manipulative side that lives down to Henry and Anna’s low expectations. That his own mother will not allow him in her home speaks to trouble he appears to accumulate. Wallace nails all those many shadings.

Babyteeth is not a complete success. The film is broken into chapters, each with a name coyly hinting at what is about to unfold. It is a convention that grates, irritatingly twee. The same can also be said of some unfortunate soundtrack choices. Climactic scenes create an abrupt tonal shift that widens the focus from the family to incorporate others in their orbit. Rather than create a feeling of community around Milla, those scenes simply create questions. Babyteeth is an evocation of family, those we are born into and those we create, but that works best in the context of the four central characters.

The film never turns into a tearjerker and that is among its strengths. Milla cuts a vibrant figure. Whether she lives or dies, she wants to set the terms of the time she has, pulling her parents and Moses along for the ride. Her lack of sentimentality sets the tone for her story. That Babyteeth a most unusual cancer kid movie. That is refreshing. – Pam Grady

Babyteeth is playing at select theaters and is available on VOD platforms.