Chatterbox! (1977)

I’m currently watching Sex and the City for the first time without ever having much interest in it until now, and it’s instantly become an all-time favorite show.  It turns out it makes a lot more sense once you hit your thirties. Who knew? In the last episode I watched, Charlotte confesses to her brunch buddies that her gynecologist prescribed a mild antidepressant to help get a vaginal infection in-check, pouting in a hushed panic “My vagina is depressed!”  That kind of candid sexual humor was a large part of what made the show such a cultural phenomenon in the early aughts, when it was a lot less common to hear women openly joke about their genitals on national television.  Before then, you had to go digging in smut to find that kind of ribald women’s humor, as evidenced by 1977’s (incredibly well-titled) talking vagina comedy Chatterbox! being directed by gay porno auteur Tom DeSimone.  Chatterbox! only qualifies as a softcore porno if you squint at its AM Gold soft-rock lovemaking scenes with the most puritanical eye. Its main-attraction talking vagina never even makes an appearance on-screen, whether to avoid an X rating or to avoid the practical mechanics of gynecological puppetry.  Still, it’s got a mildly naughty pedigree as an out-of-time, post-hardcore nudie cutie.  It wasn’t until the early 2000s that you could hear women joke about their vaginas having minds of their own on the HBO sitcom equivalent of Seinfeld.  Before then, you had to go see a dirty movie, even if not in the same sketchy theaters where they played DeSimone’s true trenchcoaters.

Most contemporary reviews of Chatterbox! dismissed it as a low-brow, juvenile sex comedy and a masturbatory fantasy for men.  They were only half right.  Yes, the jokes are idiotically crude, like when Virginia the Talking Vagina greets her mother with the zinger, “You didn’t even kiss me hello!” or when a potential sex partner responds to her propositions with “You didn’t even move your lips!”  It’s all harmless schtick, but it’s schtick all the same.  Still, the hapless hairdresser who happens to be attached to Virginia, Penelope, reacts to her supernatural genital predicament with such embarrassed horror that it’s difficult to imagine someone treating the film as pure masturbation fodder.  As much fun as Virginia is having seducing every man (and most women) in their presence, Penelope is mortified that her crotch is getting so much attention, especially by the time the pair become late night talk show regulars as a kind of side show act.  The film is pitched more directly to the women in the audience than you might expect, playing less like a macho fantasy than an adolescent stress dream about showing up to school naked.  Its closest comparison point is The Peanut Butter Solution—a childhood nightmare about rapid hair growth—not the rearranged-female-body misogyny of Deep Throat.  Penelope’s talking, misbehaving vagina is presumably voicing her sexual id, but it does little to bring her out of her shell as a sexual person.  The two are mostly at odds with each other and struggle to find an equilibrium they’re happy with, much like Charlotte York whining about her depressed vagina to friends at brunch.

Chatterbox! is the kind of ramshackle production where the boom mic is onscreen so much it deserves its own character credit.  At one point, Rip Taylor—a total pro—stealthily swats it out of the frame in annoyance for stealing his moment.  The film’s sub-mainstream production values and other titles director’s back catalog (including gems like Swap Meat and Confessions of a Male Groupie) might raise questions of why it didn’t go full-porno, but I personally admire its decision to launch directly into its premise with no funny business.  Virginia starts talking immediately in the first scene, complaining about Penelope’s longtime boyfriend’s lovemaking skills because Penelope would never voice those complaints herself.  It’s not long before they make their debut on stage & television, after Penelope quickly manages to convince her friends & psychiatrist that Virginia really does have a mind of her own.  That efficiency leaves room in the tight 70min runtime for Virginia to launch a star-making career as a disco singer, including multiple performances of her nonsense hit single “Wang Dang Doodle.”  This is an aggressively silly, unsexy sex comedy about a woman’s war with her own body, like a Doris Wishman prototype for How to Get Ahead in Advertising – one with a lot less to say but a much more interesting place to say it from.  I’m sure there are so-bad-its-good cult movie obsessives who think they’re laughing at the movie’s expense—the A Talking Pussy!?! jokes write themselves—but it appears to know exactly how silly and misshapen it is, to the point where it’s always in on the joke. In a word, it’s a hoot.

Also, in case you’re wondering, Penelope is a Charlotte but Virginia is a textbook Samantha. And, yes, I plan on ending every review with this exact analytical lens until I get this show out of my system.

-Brandon Ledet

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