Tag Archives: Jess Weixler




FEATURING: , , Stephen Plunkett,  Charlie Korsmo

PLOT: While starring in a low budget period horror film, Mabel makes the acquaintance of some affable “freaks” brought on set for authenticity; while the main cast and crew’s away, the freaks pass the time making their own movie vignettes.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Made as a rejoinder to the infamous Freaks (1932), Aaron Schimberg’s movie is non-exploitative, clever, funny, and professional. While the meta-narrative gets a little odd at one point, Chained to Life really boils down to being a feel-good comedy in the very best possible way.

COMMENTS: I found something very odd about my viewing experience of Chained for Life, and it wasn’t the subject matter. After the brief introduction by the soft-spoken director, I was feeling nervous, for some reason. Admittedly, I’ve had difficulty coping with the sight of deformity (in person and otherwise), but having thought about it—and having now seen the movie—it was the wider critical interpretation that I’d read beforehand that made me apprehensive, and afterwards made me confused. I’ll talk about what other critics saw later; me, I saw a charming, character-driven comedy.

When a busload of disabled people show up at the shoot for a period horror film, there is a hiccup of apprehension on the part of the “normals” already present. The leading lady, Mabel (Jess Weixler), plays the movie’s movie’s leading lady, a woman blinded by some unexplained accident who is promised to be cured through radical surgery. However, Chained for Life focuses primarily on the actors and crew involved, in particular on the blossoming friendship between the physically self-conscious Mabel and the physically self-accepting Rosenthal (Adam Pearson). While primary filming progresses by day, the “freaks” lodge in the hospital by night, eventually deciding to play around with filmmaking themselves. One twist leads to a cute reveal after a ways, but the story is pretty simple.

That’s not to say it isn’t well done. By using the pretentious “art-house” nonsense being filmed by a hyper- stand-in (billed only as “Herr Director”) as a counterpoint to the day-to-day scenes of people interacting with people, Aaron Schimberg crumples up any fear of “the Other” by focusing on the lighter side of the banality everyone faces. There are also moments of considerable hilarity scattered throughout. At one point, Herr Director demands Rosenthal “emerge from the shadows”. When asked the simple question, “What am I doing in the shadows?,” Herr Director goes off on a lengthy, increasingly impassioned tangent concerning The Muppet Movie, the Muppets’ epic quest, and the big reveal of . This handily reveals the director’s obsessions without providing Rosenthal with any good reason why his character would just be kicking around in the dark, while also nicely linking the two phenomena together: as Schimberg remarked in an interview, whenever there’s a big reveal (chair swivel, shadow emergence), it’s either a celebrity or a “freak”.

But what of those other critics? One used the term “black comedy” , and the only interpretation I can make of that being any comedy involving these kinds of people must be subversive somehow. Another’s mind was blown by a modest twist found in the final act; it was as if he watched a far more complicated movie than I had. But despite the unsettling undercurrents discovered by other reviews, I found Chained for Life to be as pleasing as it is witty. As the credits appear, they spool over one long take on the bus of the variously disabled actors after the in-movie movie shoot. After so deftly undermining preconceptions about disfigured people, this stunt pays off handsomely. What do we see when we watch them on the bus? Totally normal people being totally, normal, bored. It was an excellent flourish and a perfect way to underline the film’s thesis.


“It all culminates in an odd, almost surreal sequence in the back of a hired car, shot in a single long take. This deeply weird finale, both humorous and moving, strikes an uncanny note I’m not sure I’ve quite seen before — something mesmerizingly close to the sensation of a waking dream.”–Callum Marsh, The Village Voice (festival screening)


DIRECTED BY: Mitchell Lichtenstein

FEATURING, John Hensley

PLOT: A teenage girl involved in the abstinence movement discovers that she has an unusual mutation—teeth hidden inside her vagina, which clamp down on intruders.

Still from Teeth (2007)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got an odd little premise, but not enough bite (c’mon, you had to see that one coming.)

COMMENTS: If you’re going to make a film about a girl who discovers she has ravenous teeth inside her vagina—you know, a poonfang flick—you have a serious decision to make about tone. The concept is so ridiculous that it can’t be done realistically: the best you could do would be to make it into a sci-fi version of a “disease of the week” movie. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein chooses to play the concept (mostly) as a straight horror movie. Since the other possibility would be to go for a horror/comedy hybrid that would inevitably degenerate into juvenile genitalia jokes, his choice seems like it should be the correct one; but based on the results here, I’m not so sure this material wouldn’t have played better with more icky genital wackiness (a la Bad Biology).

Teeth is technically well-made and benefits greatly from an all-in performance by Heather Graham lookalike Jess Weixler as Dawn, who undertakes a sexually confused journey from idealistic prude to reluctant predator. But the way Teeth handles the inherent absurdity of its situation is problematic. There are no real scares—though prosthetic penises provide some gross-out moments—but there are no big laughs either. It’s impossible to be horrified by the girl’s ridiculous condition, and only slightly easier to be amused. You might involuntarily guffaw when young Dawn decides to visit a gynecologist (“I think their might be something weird going on inside”) rather than a dentist. Some may find the straight-faced parody of the teen abstinence movement in the first act mildly amusing. The movie also hits all the b-movie monster movie cliches, like overdramatic musical cues at the moment of revelation and a cutaway to a forensic scientist providing stilted explication to an investigating detective, although those segments play as much as homage as satire.

The film’s message about the patriarchy’s fear of female sexuality is pure symbolism 101; its implication that all men are potential rapists may strike some as offensive (although this feature may result more from the awkward demands of the plot than from any anti-male ideology). While it would make good copy to quip that movie’s shock and comedy aspirations merge about as well as teeth and vaginas, that’s not really the case. Teeth isn’t a triumph, but nor is it a disaster—which is a real problem for critics when trying to discuss a movie that offers so many opportunities for dentition related puns. You can’t imagine how many reviewers were secretly hoping this movie would be a disaster so that they could be the first to quip “Teeth bites” or “the rotten Teeth should be yanked.”

It’s worth noting once more that Jess Weixler’s portrayal of troubled innocence is a key to making Teeth work, to the extent it does. With a lesser actress in the role, the film might have ended up as pure dreck. The 2007 Sundance Film Festival jury agreed, honoring Weixler with a special jury award for “dramatic acting.”


“It’s definitely not for Aunt Minnie, but cult movie mavens will appreciate director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s willingness to push the boundaries of bad taste.”–Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Mr. Worf, who described it as “[p]art dark comedy, part horror film. Becoming a young woman is tough, especially for Dawn who is ‘very different.'” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


DIRECTED BY: Bob Byington

FEATURING: Keith Poulson, Nick Offerman, , Stephanie Hunt,

PLOT: Thirty-five years in the life of a waiter who goes through three lovers and one friend while not visibly aging, possibly thanks to a magical suitcase.

Still from Somebody Up There Likes Me (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Somebody Up There Likes Me is an experiment that dares to ask the question: just how deadpan can you make your comedy before the funny completely evaporates? It comes perilously close to finding the answer.

COMMENTS: Struggling valiantly to fashion the listless happenings that occur during the running time of Somebody Up There Likes Me into some kind of plot synopsis, the distributor’s copywriter came up with a notion that the movie involves two men named Sal and Max and “a love triangle with Lyla, the woman they both adore.” This is blatantly incorrect. The characters in Somebody simply don’t “adore”; that’s far too strong an emotion for the universe in which this movie takes place. This is a world where a woman cries out “OK!” rather than “yes!” during sex, while another confesses to “kind of liking” intercourse. This extreme understatement and emotional flatness is the movie’s joke; I suspect it may all be an arch, meta-ironic comment on fashionable hipster detachment. For long stretches, the movie won’t even attempt a real gag, skating by on its incongruously nonchalant tone: everyone is bored and inexpressive during sex, weddings, and funerals, except for Nick Offerman’s Sal, who is mildly irritated by everything, and therefore is the script’s most alive character. Although the two pals do sleep with the same woman, there is no adoration and, consequently, no love triangle (because there is no love). It’s hard not to sympathize with the poor synopsizer trying to explain what happens in the shambolic Somebody. Besides the inaccurate suggestion that the film is some sort of romantic comedy, the other potential hook the writer seizes upon is the notion that the movie contains “a magic suitcase [that] prevents Max from getting older.” This is a reasonable supposition, although there are significant problems with this description as well. Max only peers into the suitcase, whose origin or function is never explained, a couple of times. And although it’s true, and notable, that he doesn’t visibly age as the movie covers three and a half decades, what’s even odder is that some of the supporting cast age normally (a child grows to an adult), others sort of age, but don’t really look much older (Offerman develops a slight touch of grey in his beard and Jess Weixler acquires thick-rimmed glasses), while at least one other character remains as eternally youthful as Max. It’s reasonable to conclude the baggage keeps Max from visibly aging, but it’s hard to make any definitive statements about anything in this movie. The magical realist conceit enclosed in the suitcase is a surreal joke a would have taken and run with, but here, it’s sidelined and almost forgotten. Somebody‘s poker-faced twee aesthetic is strange and distinctive, but not particularly endearing. It’s like something Wes Anderson might direct while under heavy sedation.

Utilizing some of the cast from his hit TV show “Parks and Recreation” Nick Offerman co-directed a very strange (and not-safe-for-work) “virile video” for Somebody Up There Likes Me, in a style that’s nothing at all like the movie (it’s much funnier).


“…nihilistic, misanthropic, and weirdly relaxing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”–Leah Churner, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)