Either he witnessed a ferocious crocodile attack as a boy or Mitchell Lichtenstein has serious issues with women. Or both.
Taking a somewhat mocking and none-too-subtle look at the state of teenage sex in America today, Lichtenstein's "Teeth," his tongue-in-cheek first feature, is graphic and a bit unsettling. His characters, while genuinely believable and age-appropriately rebellious, still feel somewhat stereotyped.
With spooky music and frequent environmental-warning overtones (big, Three Mile Island-like smokestacks on the edge of town conjure up "The Simpsons" more than "The China Syndrome"), this silly, exaggerated protest piece takes a broad stab at suburban boredom, the freedom afforded financially comfortable high-schoolers and the favorite target for derision: virginity pledges.
Throughout the at-times predictable story, the writer makes clear he's not a fan of "abstinence only" sex ed nor does he have a great deal of faith in the teenagers themselves. Mocking those who wear "the ring" (to signify "the Promise"), Lichtenstein makes a point of showing supposedly hip speakers exhorting crowds of wholesome teens to "Keep your gift wrapped until you trade it for that other ring," intercut with speeches railing against masturbation and other terribly risky behavior.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
As the teenage poster girl for chastity, a moody and devoted Dawn repeatedly chants "Purity" to remind herself of her oath and tries valiantly to rein in her libido; she appears tormented and tempted by all that is forbidden. Alternately brooding, plotting or eerily cheerful, Jess Weixler gives an astonishing performance, making Dawn seem righteous, sensible and, when necessary, vengeful.
To counter this pure, pastel-appareled, blond, blue-eyed innocent, there's Dawn's creepy stepbrother, Brad. Brilliant and often menacing, John Hensley embodies precisely just who to avoid: he's tattooed, wears combat boots, listens to heavy metal music, casually beds girls galore. He smokes and is kept company by an extremely vicious caged dog.
As if to say, 'Don't say I didn't warn you," Lichtenstein includes scenes of a high-school health class -- where the page offering a diagram of the female anatomy has been covered; the male body drawing and explicit details are left for the students to study. The course content is similarly censored. And just for sheer irony, each sexually suggestive scene is accompanied by hallowed, sacred church choir music.
As she preaches abstinence while becoming steadily more involved in a close relationship with a seemingly friendly and similarly "pledged" friend, Dawn's actions make clear that raging teenage hormones have a power far greater than our politicians, and reinforce the fact that teenage boys -- whose natural urges can only be suppressed for so long -- do not like to hear the word "stop."
After her first intimate encounter goes grossly awry, Dawn researches the ancient myth of "vagina dentata" (a toothed vagina) and realizes the weapon within. Traveling the "purity" lecture circuit becomes a bit more difficult. Even her OB/GYN (an enjoyably easygoing Josh Pais) is not safe.
Indeed, given that a part of her is jaggedly damaging to most interlopers who dare enter and that she can evidently control it, Dawn quickly concludes, "Something inside me is lethal."
Billed as a horror/comedy, the most amusing scene begets a giggle only by accident: 2007 gas prices. Beyond that, for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with Dawn, the fact remains: reality literally bites.