Romance seems to be the furthest thing from the mind of the young woman in this poster for a movie about adolescent love. Though the young man shows the proper readiness for a tender kiss, her face seems to be registering disgust. Kissing is normally an action that makes very few demands on the facial muscles. We close our eyes, open our mouths, and make contact. The problem here is that there are no less than three separate cues that her sneering muscles are active. It's safe to assume that sneering was not the effect intended.
She appears disgusted because her upper lip shape (A) is too square— the middle straight section is too long and drops too sharply to the corner; the upper lip (B) appears drawn back into the face instead of sticking out further than the lower lip, as is normal; she has a "sneer pocket" (C) by the nose—a signature wrinkle of the action of the sneering muscle; it never appears on a relaxed face. The crease at (D) is another accident—no such crease could exist. By relying too heavily on photographs, illustrators may misinterpret or exaggerate certain details.
"Corrected" drawing of the mouth. To eliminate the sneer, the crease is removed from alongside the nose, and the upper lip is drawn with a much shorter middle portion, along with less steep outer corners. (D) is also vanquished, for good measure.
The difference between the two actions relates to the way the two muscles are attached. The fibers of the middle branch, fixed below the eye socket and traveling down to the nose, will affect only the cheek and nose. When they contract, they puff the cheek and lift the wings of the nose. The inner fibers—the nasal branch— attach much higher up the face. When they contract, they also activate a reflexive contraction of some of the muscles around the eye. With the extra muscle action, the contraction lifts the nose wings higher, puffs more cheek, and triggers the lowering of the eyebrows and squinting of the eyes.
Here is something that the two actions share in common: either will create the same signature wrinkle of the sneer, which is a sharp deepening of the upper nasolabial fold. This wrinkle is so distinctive that if it is depicted as being present, it can make the mouth seem to be sneering even if other clues are missing or ambiguous. It, and the shape of the upper lip, are the two key elements that are always present in the sneer.
Artists struggling to take the sneer out of a mouth (or, I suppose, those few who might be struggling to put one in), then, must beware of the hooked fold around the nose.
The third branch of the levator labii group, zygomatic minor, is a special case. Its role in the face as a whole is poorly understood. It's one of the few muscles involved in emotional expression over which we seem to have no conscious control. For that reason I couldn't include a drawing of it in action, by itself. Its basic role in the face seems to be to contribute to the face of sadness; as such, it's sort of the flipside of the zygomatic major. It squares the upper lip without the sneering look, because the nose lift and cheek crease are missing.
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