A docu in the tradition of Martin Scorsese’s “Italianamerican,” “Nine Good Teeth” has a lot going for it, including a great subject (director Alex Halpern’s outspoken 102-year-old grandmother) and great footage (century-spanning home movies and archival clips, not to mention a neat biographical intersection with Rossellini’s “Stromboli”). Yet, unlike Scorsese’s disruptive familial invasion, “Teeth” never adds up to more than a warm, earnest, sentimental tribute. Nevertheless, prospects for video, TV and limited theatrical runs seem OK, since pic happily dishes up a little something for everyone.
First-time helmer Halpern offers an upbeat portrait of old age, tons of ethnic local color (run-ins with shadowy Mafia figures, murderous relatives bent on avenging the family honor), brushes with greatness (Jack Kerouac went down this road) and a strong, feisty matriarch unafraid of rattling the family skeletons (tales of infidelity and coercion), all spiced with patches of unresolved pain and bitterness. Ultimately, however, pic offers no real sense of discovery or through-line, almost as if the only point of view were the filmmaker asking Grandma to “tell the one about….”