CINEMA: ‘Vagina Dentata’ Is The Nice Word For It

teethposter_1.jpgTEETH (2007, directed by Michell Lichtenstein, 93 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC

It is my sad duty to report that the great cinematic essay on the subject of Vagina Dentata has yet to be made. Points for getting to the subject first should be awarded to Mitchell Lichtenstein (the son of Pop artist Roy) with his directorial debut Teeth. While Spielberg may have defined high concept filmaking with his “fish that eats people”, Lichtenstein’s got a twist that can’t be beat, he’s sexed it up as “the vagina that eats people”. Like Jaws, Teeth supplies the giddy thrill waiting for our victims to feel the first few nibbles but the film doesn’t give us much more to chew on than its oh-so naughty premise.

Teeth chronicles the coming-of-age of high school goody-two-shoes Dawn (Julliard-trained Jess Weixler), infamous in her class for her chastity group “The Promise”, where Dawn lectures kids on keeping their “gift” wrapped until marriage. She blissfully sketches wedding dresses in her notebook until the new boy Tobey (Hale Appleman) brings out strange rumblings from below Dawn’s waistline. Dawn’s descent into suburban slutdom takes her from an innocent frightened of her budding sexuality to a murderous vigilante who turns her back on Pat Benatar’s sage advice and starts using sex as a weapon.

Somehow, for a film with a few scattered penises lying around, Lichtenstein’s brand of satire seems a little tame and toothless. He cranes up to show us the nuclear plant that lurks ominously above the town’s skyline three or four times, but he goes no further in exploring what Dawn’s mutating ovaries might mean. He shows us Dawn’s creepy virginity cult but he leaves out the religious dogma those on which those groups thrive. Each of Dawn’s victims are predators of different sorts but Lichtenstein does little to illuminate their assaultive sexuality. Too leisurely paced to work as a thriller, too simplistically-written for a character study, Teeth is about about what would happen if a young woman’s crotch could bite off wienies and little else.

It’s a provocative idea wasted. The story of a young woman lassoing the over-sized power of her sexual maturity is begging to revel in some post-riot grrrl kicks yet Dawn never gets to take any satisfaction form her evolutionary/revolutionary loins, she just accepts her new power with a befuddled shrug. Instead of following that thread Lichtenstein takes the dopier male perspective and tries to make us yell by reaching up and squeezing us between the legs. Sure, audiences will cross their legs in a panic but this seems like an oddly unambitious task for a fifty-one year old first-time director to tackle.


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