White Teeth: Review – film reviews, interviews, features | BRWC – The Global Tofay

White Teeth: Review - film reviews, interviews, features | BRWC - The Global Tofay Global Today

White Teeth Review. By Christopher Patterson.

A Underrated Series That Is Just As Important Then As Today

Time to take it back to the year 2000. If you were even a casual reader, one name would be on your radar. Smith. Well, Zadie Smith, to be exact. Zadie Smith is an author whose impact on 21st-century literature is immeasurable. Simply put, she has defined not just this century so far, but the millennium. And she did it right in 2000 with her biting debut, White Teeth. There’s a saying that goes along the bitter lines of “the book did it better.” While this sadly holds some merit in relation to most adaptations, here is something I would like to call a grey area. Yeah, I’m going for the grey area. Both the film and series White Teeth are fantastic on their own and stand as must-see and read pieces of entertainment. Here, talking about the series, if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself for its unforgettable timelessness that sparks with a level of exuberance and indulgence that is so unrestrained, but that is what White Teeth is. An unrestrained, biting look at a multicultural and generational London. Though, in essence, White Teeth reflects a level of relatability and universality that its description alone might not say.

Now to describe why White Teeth works so well is, well, to describe why the book works so well also:

The people are what White Teeth is really about. Even more, White Teeth is about what people really are. If they we are anything but humans. Are we what were born into or who were related to? Or are we enough? Or is it enough to go day by day feeling like your living a lie?

Throughout White Teeth, we see each character have an evolution, all related to what is to be them. Irie is stuck in what society expects of her, and her longing to know what makes her, her. We have already seen her mom overcome the hurdles she saw in her life, and this likely prevents her from letting Irie go to Jamaica, but in return, Irie becomes rebellious and soon leaves. Joshua and his parents reflect the stereotypes and horrors of modern, privileged, and pompous British people. And through this, we see how it affects each member of the family acting and being as they do and how it affects others. We also see how London itself festers itself within their lives and the transitions they have by the end.

It is also the United Kingdom’s colonising history that speaks volumes throughout this, which is a secret underliner to the characters’ conflicts. Smith not only touches on generational trauma but also the cycles of rebellion that come from parent to child and also speaks to the United Kingdom’s history while also touching on the humans within it with a level of thought and consideration. This is also while always hitting the hard topics that are as important then as they are now, like homophobia, racism, and sexism. Smith, over twenty years ago, broke the conventions of not just what a debut can offer (also at twenty-four), but also what a literal debut novel can accomplish. She hits on so much more than all of this, and so well, and so indulgently, but that is the bite of White Teeth. There’s a striking and unique yet so-needed excessiveness to it that makes the bite all the harder. No one does it better than Smith.

The idea of “who you are” is what White Teeth sometimes sets its sights on. It’s the feeling of learning about your culture and the feeling almost tied to living up to and living by it, and that feeling and individualism are at the centre of this series, and it never loses sight of this. For all the curveballs Smith might take in her story to shift in an almost directionless yet so pointed way, this idea remains at usually the forefront. I say usually since I would not say forefront, as I believe Smith never does it. Give a full forefront. White Teeth is like a box of so much that you have to almost limit yourself to tying them to something whole also knowing that is the intention behind this machination. Even more, back to the main point of this paragraph, Smith will use this “who you are” dilemma to hit moments like cultural appropriation and other situations like being yourself versus your roots.

White Teeth is, at its most simplest if it can be downsized at all, a reflection of people of a variety of backgrounds just living their lives in London. Though, to be more precise, with the opener of this paragraph, the theme would be under this, “What is it to be British?” A key thing we see in most characters is their feeling of not being enough about their culture, not fitting in, other characters not accepting them, and what it takes to be British or whatever that means. While we see some go down the route of accepting themselves and letting go of their culture and making their own identity, becoming individualistic, others become sucked into their culture and rebel in some ways from the United Kingdom’s customs, either feeling not accepted or something else. A key to all of this chaos is the feeling of: Is being yourself enough? Is not being born in a country where you stand as yourself enough, or are you not enough of that? Though, as the novel and series shows, being British is everywhere around you. There is no standard, since simply existing in this world is enough and, if you want to be more general, just being there should be enough. Since it is the people that make up a nation, that are a nation. Not what it was, but what is now.

These are key areas to which Smith directs her attention, and in the series, it is just as itchy as the book, and, at points, it feels just as visceral. That feeling of not belonging—that is what is itched in. Smith, in one of her best choices, decides not to show judgement but rather observation, in my eyes. A brilliant thing about Smith is how interpretive her choices are in White Teeth. While it seems no judgement is given, that is just my sole perspective. What makes this all the better is the purposeful intention. This could be done by anyone, but here, with everything, Smith seems to have planned even the thoughts of the observer. It feels like an ironic case of hysterical observation. The irony of that will become clear later with the term hysterical hopefully to stay on your radar.

An important thing that ties White Teeth together is what the United Kingdom is today. Well, today when it was released. Smith shows the diversity of London on display that, even today, isn’t commonly shown and uses history as a nice guide in areas. Just as good is the level of intricacy on display. It is clear Smith knows not just the history of the United Kingdom but also literature with the level of skill given to her characters and how she writes her world.

Nobody is perfect. A fact that has never been made more clear than in White Teeth One of the greatest things Smith did was not have stereotypical characters from each of these unique cultural backgrounds. Instead, she made each character humane and complex, filled with their own perspectives and outlooks that never felt overwhelmed by others. No one in Smith’s universe is innocent, and shades of wrong and evil are present in all of us, but there is also beauty. In other words, there is no exploitation or examination of the characters’ flaws excessively; rather, they are left casually and as normal as someone you might talk to. In other words, they are realistic. While characters’ decisions are detailed, judgement is a term lost in interpretation here quite brilliantly. Even more, when Smith handles purposeful it seems stereotypes, she switches the conventions almost immediately to show a level of depth and history that, while can only be speculated, says a million more words than she can describe.

This whole examination here on the self leads Smith to hit topics like, in particular, toxic masculinity. The examination of what it is to be a man all relates to Smith’s continued discussions of war, murder, harassment, and a million more things I likely forgot about. The most clear instance is in Millat. Millat becomes a rebel under his education in London, likely from distance and jealousy from his sibling and a rebellion inside him. This also gives him a womanising and sexist attitude that becomes rampant. Smith uses this character at first to examine, it seems, the flaws behind UK education and speak to cultural, generational, and educational factors that can turn someone into this mindset. Smith will later shift into fundamentalist Islam and the effects this will have on his mindset, being set and questioning his beliefs. He can be called an almost lost and angsty rebel who speaks to a level of topics that is hard to say in a single sentence. Though looking into this character alone is to say a thing Smith does with her characters here. She makes almost all examinations for a specific purpose, like an experiment. Yet, this is nicely hidden behind the depths of the characters to a point where, unless you’re searching for it, it can almost just feel like people just living their lives, as wacky as life can get.

One of the most distinctive elements of White Teeth was its grinding, expansive, and evasive yet upfront style. As mentioned before, it’s Tarantino-like. While someone like Tarantino kept it more to the films and more precise, with a level of direction and writing that would keep audiences up and steady watching, Smith and this series aim for a more laid-bouncy style that throws a punch with a billion or so words that on first listen one might very much miss. Smith and the screenwriters here simply convey the magic of White Teeth. As pointed out by a harsh critic of White Teeth, James Wood, hysterical realism. Though Wood might have seen this as a detriment, here it is at the core of why Smith’s debut novel and this series works so well. Its unique style and flair are certainly well provided with this hysterical realism, but to see it as a point of critique misses the fundamental idea of individual work. Putting art on a pedestal of what can and can’t destroys art since art cannot be taken down for its uniqueness. That is what art is. It’s ironic a term that seemed meant to tear down a work only builds it up since this is, quite simply, what makes White TeethWhite Teeth. Its abundance and overlooking nature into every plot point and little event or moment in every single character lives is a core of what makes it what it is. It’s what makes White Teeth shine and blossom.

Wham bam. Thank you, Smith and the people who directed this wonderful series. Yes, the direction rocks here. Somehow, this unknown series, based on a three-year-old or so book, gets some of the best direction and some of the most stylistic and nice choices to ever grace a single season of television. I say this with a great deal of reason, since have you seen the direction? Each shot just pops with a level of early 2000s indulgence into the styles of the times it conveys and captures that free-throwing timelessness that makes it generational, not just in storytelling but also in pure fanaticism. Simply put, the direction here is so nice since it has this ladder to it. One side is more reflective of past cinema and characters wear themselves. Both pop at the scene and yet are so centred in the time it takes place but not defined by it. Like the novel, its singular individuality and beauty blossom to the sound of its own beat.

You are in a Zadie Smith adaptation production. Imagine. And action. The acting here just pops with a fun release, it feels. Like, the cast just got and loved the script they were given. Here, the acting has this attitude and feel that is controlling yet free at points, which makes the twists hit all the harder and the smaller moments all the more emotional. Clear standouts are, firstly, Naomi Harris who brings this casual and fun filled performance that sparks a sense of hope and life deeply needed in a White Teeth adaptation. James McAvoy gives this quirky and weird then over the top performance that excites with his level of charisma at points and purposeful lack thereof. Sarah Ozeke is the most standout here, giving a joyful, like her mother in the series, performance but unlike her, filled with this level of depth and complexity that can switch in a heartbeat. This is not even going into a dozen other cast members who just kill it since they all are, simply put, spectacular.

The bite stands. That is how to describe this series. Transferring adaptation has one risk. Losing the uniqueness of the source material. Not to say it has to be one-to-one, but if it attempts what White Teeth does here, losing the sauce of the original is doomsday. The original White Teeth is a biting look at a group of individuals of diverse backgrounds, their transformations and evolutions through generations, and the effect London has on them. Though, even with this bold idea, Smith, at just twenty-four, also aims to use her unique prose, to make something that is not just powerful but also quite uniquely humorous. Thankfully, everyone, from the cast to the director in this series, delivered. And then some.

Charles Dickens was an author of many things, but one of them, at his best, was his timelessness. In a sense, he captured sometimes a universal quality in his work that propelled so many since it was the simplest thing that may be riled up to an eleven, but it just clicked and was an event many people will encounter since he took specks of life and grounded them in, as said before, in a timeless way. Now, why am I talking about some random author from like two hundred years ago? Well, Zadie Smith can be described, in my humble opinion, as a clearly better author and updated one that shows what Dickens could offer, but for a new century and millennium, and if I had to choose which of the two would be studied in a century, it would, undeniably, be Smith. She simply captures and understands the authenticity of all she writes, with her characters’ feelings feeling so real and relatable yet distinct and human all the time, and yet, unlike Dickens, her works feel so standout.

For instance, let’s use Great Expectations for comparison. Great Expectations tells the tale of Pip, a boy living with his cruel sister and uncle-in-law, and weaves it into his growing up and seeking love from someone who is not to love, at least how he wants. Though, what is not the focus? As the title suggests, it means being grateful for what you have. Pip expects so much but learns he is left disappointed so often, and this is since he was starting to lose focus on what he already had. In a sense, the message is don’t expect too much and be grateful for what you have, but do seek things out but don’t get caught up in them. Enjoy life, simply. What’s key about this series and novel, you see, is its timelessness. The message of being grateful and how it tackles love is done in a specific way, but it is all weaved under an underlying and clear message that connects with so many still today. Dickens was able to be direct and so general by making his story not stuck in the times and more escapist but clear in style to give it universality and texture. Smith, in a sense, accomplished this and also did not. Unlike Dickens, she does not ever shy away from any hard topics, and she makes sure her work is not dated or anything and draws a fine line on keeping that clear. To put it precisely, Smith bites more and harder than even some of the most known authors to exist.

A great way to end off a look at White Teeth would be to answer why it stands out so much. Well, it’s not the usual pompous writing you might expect from the hype. While White Teeth is intricately written both in show and novel form, it uses past history of literature like its going out of style and effectively builds a bridge in between more neat and fancy prose and more bolder, more today-like styles in a convenient and audacious manner that only Smith can offer. Smith and this series also did all of this in 2000 and 2002. We only really see even half of what Smith does and talks about here getting mentioned after she published White Teeth and even then it still needs more focus. Even crazier is the impact White Teeth has had on this century and millennium. To put it nicely, its impact is clear from almost every genre of book you can find. It, quite simply, changed the game and did it better than most other books out there. Sadly, this impact with the book isn’t matched by the equally good series that is at the forefront here.

While it is hard to say, the series version of White Teeth has been long forgotten. Not in the sense that it never gets talked about, but even when it does, it barely does. It is a situation where quality doesn’t equal success and is proven more than factual.

If there ever was one thing you couldn’t say White Teeth has or that you’re a liar, it was creativity. Smith didn’t just create a world; she made the world human again. All with a smile.

Now timeless. The word. Timeless. Something that expands its age and hits just the same as when it was released, or even more. The bite White Teeth had in 2000 and again in 2002 has not gone rotten or numb, but, if I had to say, it has actually gotten stronger. You could say that there is even more depth considering the time we live in.


White Teeth was a biting and comedic series that, like the novel it is based on, deserves to be remembered not just as a fantastic work but possibly as one of the most groundbreaking and influential pieces of entertainment to be released based on not only the range of influence that it has already stirred but also the innovation always and so abundantly on display. One of the nicest things to think aboutvWhite Teeth is that it may show some the world isn’t as small as they think it is. And it may show others a variety of cultures and perspectives desperately still needing to be talked about today. Thankfully, it was handled with more care and thought than entertainment then and somehow still today. It, quite simply, had a better dentist. And that dentist was Zadie Smith.


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