jlichman on: Wisdom Teeth
By S.T. VanAirsdale
Inarguably the best film about a woman with a toothed vagina to ever screen at the Museum of Modern Art, Teeth premiered in Midtown Monday night with breakthrough star Jess Weixler and first-time filmmaker Mitchell Lichtenstein in attendance. Generally underwhelmed by the film upon its Sundance premiere in 2007, I found its genre-hopping from horror comedy to political satire to rape-revenge flick a little more intriguing after viewing it last week in New York -- particularly the latter theme, which acquires some clever superheroic muscle as young Dawn (Weixler) harrowingly discovers her body's capacity for self-defense, vengeance and, ultimately, total ownership of her sexual experience.
"I didn't want to make it one [genre] more than the other," Lichtenstein told The Reeler during an interview last week in New York. "I think it's kind of rare that a movie, by the time it's made, hasn't been channeled into one of those categories more than another. I wanted all those elements, and luckily there was no committee I had to go through. It is a challenge for marketing, though, and it may be a challenge for audiences."
But while it's not quite the aggressive grrl-power scream of Hard Candy or the deeply nuanced (and misunderstood) supernatural vortex of The Brave One, Teeth nevertheless achieves fierce leverage against an abominable male cohort -- predatory schoolmates, a sleazy gynecologist, a stepbrother from hell. "They're not there for the effect they would have in Saw or something," Weixler said of Dawn's "mutation," her knowledge of which invigorates both a crusading abstinence and unabating curiosity. "It's not the same genre. But we did heighten it to make it a little more ridiculous. I knew that I had to make her human enough for people to care about her -- that she had to be real and relatable. The rest of it can be ridiculous, because it is."
Moreover, said Weixler (whose performance earned a Special Jury Prize for acting last year at Sundance), she and Lichtenstein honed a character whose upholding of the vagina dentata myth is as cautionary as it is convenient.
"We had a lot of dialogue about when she chooses to bite," Weixler told me. "At first it's just instinct; if you can protect yourself, then you do, usually. So her body just protects itself, and she spends a while trying to figure out what happened and freaking out about it. Then she discovers when she has sex with someone she likes, it doesn't happen all the time. She realizes she can control it by the third round. That's the way it's most like a superhero movie: a superhero who throws the web too far and can't hit the mark. How do you gauge what you're able to do with this?"
So should we expect the franchise I clamored for last fall after The Brave One -- the straight-to-DVD Teeth 2: Teethier around this time next year? No comment from Weixler or Lichtenstein, unless you take disgusted faces on shaking heads as a "Probably not."
Teeth opens Friday in New York.
Posted at January 15, 2008 8:57 AM
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