The terror of sitting through Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) starts well before The Movie even hits the screen. Being a 27-year-old, a male (and unaccompanied one at that), it required some courage on my part to be taken for a potential sex offender by most of the moms guarding their daughters in the Union Square theatre.
If anything, Peter Chelsom’s movie proves that they indeed should guard them. This is the first G rated movie that I saw, whose 15-year-old female character is so aware of her body she might challenge Lolita Haze herself. Of course, there’s no mention of sex, but it’s not required, since so much time is devoted to Hannah applying make-up to herself, or buying clothes, or dancing on stage in a fully grown-up manner. Hannah – her real name is Miley – is conceived as a chick simultaneously hot and tame. As she sings in her first number, “she has the best of both worlds”.
The movie makes this duality a theme: Miley is a corn-fed Tennessee girl, who happened to make it big on stage as Hannah Montana. Miley rides horses, Hannah flies private jets. As Hannah, she can get whatever she wants, and she gets it. This is a movie designed to thrive upon the teenage-girls audience’s desire for brand clothing. At the same time – a schizophrenic twist not unlike the one from The Devil Wears Prada (2007) – the story is an indictment of vanity, derision, and wealth. Sharing some observations with Jim Abrahams' Big Bussines (1988) and George Sidney's Bye Bye Birdie (1963), Hannah Montana doesn't really satirize anything, at the same time pretending that it does. And that contradictory duality is what makes Miley’s perennial grin so offensive. She lies when she sings that you can have the best of two worlds. In fact, it's difficult to get anything half-decent from one.
Compared to Hannah Montana, Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) – a heroine of Teeth (2007) that goes on a penis-biting spree with her vagina dentata – is laughably lacking in sexual awareness. She’s practically a grown woman, and yet she doesn’t know how to masturbate (doesn’t even realize the possibility). The concept of teeth-enchanced vagina is supposed to reflect on deeply-rooted male fears, but it’s Dawn who’s terrified of sex in the movie.
Mitchell Lichtenstein's film is truly retro, without announcing it even. Its approach to characters, dialogue and editing is archaic, but the story works all the better for it. I personally liked very much a scene in which Josh Pais’ gynecologist gets bitten during examination, and by a vagina unrelentata enough not to let go, never mind how much he struggles. This struggle alone, the way it's neatly edited into a series of shots and reverse shots, is good enough reason to watch the movie. It serves as a good metaphor of our own involvement with the film. We know it’s absurd, but since it’s so sexual, we stick our fingers in and don’t let go no matter what. And when the film is done with us, all we can utter is precisely what Pais utters, and in a whiny voice that mirrors ours: “Vagina dentata… It exists… Vagina dentata…”.