"That's an awesome movie. I've seen it four times," the video store clerk told me when I rented Teeth. It's always nice to receive affirmation for one's cinematic selections. When the film in question is a horror satire about the myth of the vagina dentata, though, I'm not sure I'd rush to watch his Employee Recommendations.
Not surprisingly, Teeth shows no qualms about offending the squeamish. What is surprising is that writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein approaches the material with such intelligence, until the temptation to indulge in grisly jokes gets the better of him.
Jess Weixler gives a mature, sensitive performance as Dawn O'Keefe, a high school girl who gives inspirational speeches to local pro-virginity groups. As Dawn, Weixler looks a little like Britney Spears, assuming she'd found God and not the music industry as a tween. Weixler generates enormous appeal by playing the role not as a Bible-thumping airhead, but as a young girl who happens to have a spiritual side.
Adolescence is a time of physical self-discovery, but Dawn's horrified to learn that she has wickedly sharp teeth where, uh, you'd least expect them. The film presents her genetic "adaptation" as a manifestation of the personal and social pressures to suppress her sexuality. The director (son of pop art pioneer Roy Lichtenstein) winks at the premise with clips from old horror movies such as Black Scorpion and key scenes in a cave with low-hanging stalactites.
When men sexually victimize Dawn, she gradually learns to use her abnormality to strike back at them where they live, so to speak. Teeth shows tasteful restraint in revealing the female form, but doesn't shy away from revealing the consequences of screwing Dawn over. In its last third, Teeth grows more lurid, campy and juvenile, crossing the line from feminist empowerment study to lurid revenge fantasy. Weixler's performance definitely makes Teeth worth catching, but don't even think about it if the mention of the name "Lorena Bobbit" makes you reflexively cross your legs.
I can see Rushdie's stuff adapting well. Lots of plot to play with.