Teeth

teeth.jpg
Van Redin/Roadside Attractions
Mitchell Lichtenstein/United States 2008

The queasy possibilities inherent in showing a virginal young girl discovering teeth in her vagina would be numerous enough, but when she’s a member of a Just Wait-style organization called The Promise and wears a purity ring, you can assume the film has some subversive fish to fry. Or it could just be going for an easy laugh.

Teeth’s satirical credentials start out strong, shades of John Waters hanging over the polarized family of the carefully-named Dawn (Jess Weixler) and her thoroughly thuggish half-brother Brad (John Hensley); and right there you can see at least half of the film’s plot lying in wait ahead of you.

Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of Roy), the film initially invites audience snickers by lingering over holes in tree trunks and the damp openings of caves. But it never gets around to finding another satisfactory joke in its armory – unless I missed a couple while I had my hands over my eyes, which was a lot. Once the severed penises start flying, the film glides away from Waters, through Joe Dante (a cheesy monster movie disturbs Dawn’s nightmares), and ends up in Brian Yuzna territory.

I liked the film’s refusal to cop out and provide anything approaching an explanation for Dawn’s condition. There are two cooling towers practically in the family’s garden, hinting that she might be due a visit from Charles Xavier, although in this film they might just be symbolism run amok. But Teeth becomes more of a drag when its anti-misogynist parable turns into a rather resigned dislike of adults in general: Dawn’s parents suffer misery and bereavement for crimes undisclosed, her doctor’s a creep who gets what’s coming to him, and Dawn herself turns into some wandering angel of castration licensed to wipe out weirdos.

The real fun in the film is some smooth work from Weixler, who although about a decade older than Dawn according to IMDb, still deserves fulsome praise for being well and truly game. She can look like Reese Witherspoon or Anna Faris as the plot demands, which is handy since it turns out to demand first one and then the other.

Of course the whole thing can be read as trenchant commentary, or a gross-out comedy – the current poster is pure American Pie, rather demeaning Weixler’s work – or just as a big nasty pie in the face direct from Camille Paglia’s waste paper basket. But as a film it’s just oddly plain, running on rails towards a well-signposted denouement: Prince Albert piercing, hungry rottweiler, I can say no more.

© 2007 Tim Hayes. All rights reserved.

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