You can often sell a movie with a shocking or unique approach to an ... unseemly topic, but it takes a good deal of talent to take an outrageous idea and turn it into a effective, entertaining and weirdly powerful experience. Case in point: I just finished seeing a movie called Teeth, which centers on a pretty teenage girl whose vagina has teeth. Yes, you read that right: The old "vagina dentata" myth that's been propagated across dozens of cultures for thousands of years -- most likely because, deep down, men are pretty much terrified of women. (Or at least certain parts of 'em) One might expect a movie with this concept to be broad, stupid, campy "Troma" material all the way. But in the hands of writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein and a stellar cast, Teeth (against all odds) ends up being one of the most witty, intelligent and darkly insightful looks at young womanhood since Lucky McKee's brilliant May. (And how strange and admirable is it that both of these movies comes from male writer/directors?)
If you get over the rather distasteful subject matter and focus on what's beneath the surface, you'll find a flick that's got a whole lot to say about young women and their fear of burgeoning sexuality, society's general distaste (and, let's face it, fear) of the female sex organ, and the ways in which men do a serious disservice to womankind by treating their "naughty bits" as if they're something to be ashamed of. Teeth covers all this ground (and a whole lot more), and I suspect it's more open-minded and honest than most of what passes for "sex ed" these days. This movie offers enough meaty subtext to fill three semesters and it does so in a shocking, humorous and strangely compassionate fashion.
Stellar newcomer Jess Weixler plays young Dawn, a passionate supporter of teenage celibacy who's generally dismissed as a harmless little goody-two-shoes by most of her high school peers. But when those "icky" urges hit Dawn in a big way, she quickly discovers that she's quite a bit ... different than other girls. And not in a particularly good way. Toss a dying mother and a vile step-brother into the mix, and you just know things aren't going to end well. To divulge much more in the way of plot synopsis would be doing the film a grave disservice, as this comedy/horror hybrid has more than a few jolts, jumps and unpredictable twists up its sleeve. Those who would dismiss the film based solely on its premise, well, they probably wouldn't really like Teeth anyway.
I'm of the opinion that audacity is something to be admired in today's cinematic world, and Teeth has audacity to spare. Fortunately for the brave movie-watcher, the film is also very smart, slick and entirely unashamed to throw a few nasty shocks into the equation ... if that's what it takes to get the point across. As Dawn begins to realize that her privates possess a decidedly unsavory set of dental features, the phrase "sex as a weapon" begins to take on a whole new meaning. Lichtenstein bravely refuses to shy away from the sticky questions and icky repercussions, which elevates Teeth beyond the label of "interesting curiosity" and right into the realm of "brazen brilliance."
Perhaps it's just because I've always had a soft spot for horror films that push the envelope and actually have something to say, but I'd call Teeth one of the grade-A highlights of this year's Sundance Film Festival. It's very smart, a little sick, most definitely not for all audiences, and it contains a star-making turn from the lovely Ms. Weixler. (She reminds me of a younger Kate Winslet, and I guarantee I'm not the only critic who'll mention the comparison; Weixler's that good) Kudos to the actress for not only taking on such a potentially dicey project, but for instilling the film with some real heart, humor and sincerity. With the exact same screenplay and a lesser actress, Teeth could have been cheesy, stupid camp all the way.
Such is most certainly not the case here; I think it's one of the most bizarrely entertaining movies I've seen in years. (And I'd be a fool if I neglected to mention the undeniably unsettling supporting turn from young actor John Hensley, so consider it duly mentioned) Bottom Line: Teeth is precisely the sort of genre movie that we need to see more of. Needless to say, the scared and the squeamish can go see something else.[Check out Kim's take on Teeth right here.]