Teeth (USA; 88 min.)


directed by: Mitchell Lichtenstein
starring: Jess Weixler; John Hensley; Ashley Springer; Josh Pais; Hale Appleman
Teeth
 

Jason says: "Every site I've seen that tags movies by genres lists TEETH as a horror movie, but I'm not sure that's really the best description. Sure, if you're a guy, the very concept of vagina dentata is scary as hell, but this film isn't exactly told from a man's perspective in the first place. If this is a horror movie, then it's likely one of the few that teenage girls will like more than their boyfriends.

"After a brief prologue that establishes that Dawn (Jess Weixler) had a little extra anatomy downstairs even as a little girl, it fast-forwards to her high school years, where she's a big abstinance proponent, wearing a red promise ring and speaking to other kids about why they should wait. She's got more reason to be afraid of the dangers of unprotected sex than others, of course, though she doesn't know that, and she still has all the urges of any teenager, especially when a cute new boy (Hale Appleman) joins the abstinence club.

"What Lichtenstein is up to in TEETH is far from subtle - he's not making any attempt to hide the themes of female sexual empowerment and sex education being far less dangerous than ignorance - but I'm impressed with how he manages to avoid giving unnecessary offense. Dawn's abstinence rallies don't have any specific religious connotations to them, although a biology class used to introduce the concept of mutation goes out of its way to avoid antagonizing creationists. It's necessary for the plot - Dawn has to be unaware of her difference at the start of the film - but it's done in such a way that she doesn't look like a fool.

"It's important that we don't look down on Dawn too much, because Weixler is in nearly every scene. She's fun to watch; Dawn's emotions are painted in broad strokes on her face, and Weixler does a fine job of making Dawn's early naïveté charming. Later on, she's able to bring some bone-dry wit and determination when the film calls for her to be more active, and her sadness, guilt, fear, and confusion are always just the right note in between. Weixler's got the knack for making Dawn genuine and earnest despite the crazy things going on around her.

"Although I wouldn't necessarily call TEETH a horror movie, Lichtenstein certainly knows how to use the genre's style, though often for humor. It's almost quaint how a gigantic nuclear plant looms over the town, taking up something like three quarters of the screen whenever an establishing shot of Dawn's house is called for and explaining her mutation as well as her mother's cancer. That's as fifties as the monster movie clips that show up occasionally, although the plot owes more to Cronenberg-style body horror. It's also not afraid to throw out some blood and severed body parts.

"Mostly, though, it's funny and smart. It doesn't go for the really big laughs as much, but gets a steady stream of smaller ones. Impressively, the biggest ones come at the end, when it's a little harder to chuckle at how Dawn's good-girl behavior contrasts with all the other teenagers. And as much as Dawn's story arc and the points the film is trying to make are clear, Lichtenstein resists his urges to get up on a soapbox.

"Getting more overtly political is one of the many ways that TEETH could have become a disaster; Lichtenstein and Weixler do fine jobs of side-stepping them. Indeed, they manage something pretty impressive: A dark comedy that's fun to watch, managing to avoid the mean-spiritedness that can sometimes make that sort of movie a chore to watch. 4 cats

"Seen 29 January 2008 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)"

 
Thom says: "While I thought the idea of the film was clever & quite watchable (I loved the nuclear plants smokestacks spewing toxic waste into the atmosphere), I found the execution to be sloppy. I also was very disappointed with the lead Jess Wexler as she was very amateurish. John Hensley added some much needed professionalism to his dastardly role as the stepbrother. As a comedy it lacked real humor to the point of turgidity. The ending was fine but the resolve took too long to get there. 2.5 cats"
 
Michael says: "I’m with Jay on this one… and I’m surprised by your criticism’s Thom! I found Mitchell Lichtenstein’s comedic farce about a sexually repressed young woman who discovers she has teeth in her vagina to be pretty darn funny. I thought Jess Wexler was very strong as the lead, who slowly comes to realize the power she possesses, with each sexual encounter she has. In the end, I couldn’t help wondering what society would be like if vagina dentata was a common occurrence. 3 ½ cats.