Thursday, January 31, 2008


I saw this at the Chlotrudis movie night on Tuesday; apparently only four of us from that group were up for it, although there were others making their presense felt. Scot wound up standing to shush them, and they mostly quieted down. I have to admit, though, that when he did it, I was thinking that if you're going to have people talking during a movie, this is the sort where its most tolerable. I think it would be a lot of fun in a packed house - I smile thinking of the "OOOHHHHHH!" that would be let out by the male portion of the audience at the first bit of mayhem. Hopefully the Boston Sci-fi Marathon will dig it up next year. Or even this year; it'll probably be out of theaters in three weeks.

I hope good things are ahead for the star, Jess Weixler. She's pretty, but also funny; she makes me laugh just with facial expressions and has the knack for making her character likable even when she's a little ridiculous.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 January 2008 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

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.

Also at eFilmCritic, along with two other reviews

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