Quirky coming-of-age comedies are the bread-and-butter of the Sundance Film Festival. They’re part of a storied tradition that includes titles like Tadpole, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Stolen Summer, and Son of Rambow, but where does an occasionally trippy and disturbing comedy like Excision fit into this storied tradition? Like the best coming-of-age comedies, it’s awkwardly funny and painfully relatable…when it’s not shocking you with Tarsem-like dream sequences featuring gouts of blood and midgets in diapers. But I’ll get to that in a minute. Like 2007’s Teeth, it’s a Sundance comedy that defies easy categorization.
18-year-old Pauline is the film’s juicy center of indie-film adolescent angst. With her hooded eyes and cro-magnon eyebrows, she’s definitely ugs. (The foxy AnnaLynne McCord wore a series of prosthetics for the role.) Bullied at school and ridiculed by a domineering mother (Traci Lords), Pauline is desperate for new friends, but her attempts at friendship are rejected at every turn. She’s just too goddam ugly.
As a parable of adolescence, Excision is very cleverly observed. It’s riddled with the staples of indie teen comedy: menstruation, virginity, a struggle for sense of self. In fact, Excision serves as the textbook depiction of cinematic teen anguish. So then why make the choice to inter-cut all the awesome melancholy with crazy-ass dream imagery? And why build such meticulous characters only to end it all in a screechy, bloody finale? It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy without the Shakespeare. In the end, all of the subconscious craziness in Excision is just an unnecessary afterthought tacked onto an insightful coming-of-age story.