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Jawbreaker

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 19 February 1999

  Written and Directed by Darren Stein.

Starring Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart,
Julie Benz, Judy Evans Greer, Chad Christ,
Ethan Erickson, Charlotte Roldan, Carol Kane,
Pam Grier, William Katt, and Marilyn Manson.

If May is the month for gathering nuts, why is this wacky walnut arriving so early. Well, it is just after Valentine’s Day and there’s candy in the title, but more likely this micro-budget ($3 million, I believe) ode to high school hardwood obviously has distributor TriStar salivating that a quickie wide release, so soon after this film’s presentation at Sundance in late January, should easily earn back its production costs opening weekend. Heck, may that by the end of opening day. I have to agree with that theory, even if I hated the film. Guess I’ve been out of secondary school too long to appreciate demographically disabled stuff like this.

With all the teen angst out there in cinemaland, this stylish yet boneheaded black comedy from sophomore director-writer and John Hughes wannabe Darren Stein (his first effort, Sparkler, is going into general release next month) will suck up to the young crowd, especially thanks to its hip soundtrack, the sharp, stylish lensing by Amy Vincent (Eve’s Bayou), and editing straight off of an MTV music video. Stein has called it Heathers meets Carrie, an apt description in lieu of its homage to those distinctly better predecessors. A bevy of bodacious goddesses, young on experience, will certainly absorb the adolescent gents in ways that they want to be entertained, featuring the likes of Rose McGowan (Phantoms), Rebecca Gayheart (Urban Legend, Scream 2, Beverly Hills 90210), Julie Benz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Judy Evans Greer (previously starring in the little seen, Wisconsin-based feature Stricken, dealing with a college prank gone tragically awry), and Charlotte Roldan (in a feature debut that ends in the first reel, except for an occasional flashback).

Speaking of pranks gone tragically awry, that’s the basis of Jawbreaker, as the titular sweet heads south in the throat of birthday babe Liz Purr (Roldan), up to that moment one of a fab foursome who spend their school days looking gorgeous, walking down the halls of Reagan High in endless slow motion riffs. It’s up to ugly duckling/class runt Fern Mayo (Greer) to fill her spot in the clique, with a makeover assist by the surviving brood, all seemingly homework deficient. Re-christened Vylette, the girl goes straight to the top with a bullet. Shades of Frankenstein drifted through my sweet-and-sour thoughts of the film at hand, but I didn’t want to demean that illustrious work too long.

Jawbreaker is Very Bad Things redux (Very Worse Things?), with ruthless Courtney Shayne (McGowan) in the Christian Slater, take charge role, but looking very much like a young Barbara Steele. Her curvaceous pawns are the chaotic Marcie "Foxy" Fox (Benz), aptly described as a legend in her own mind, and the reluctant, "You can’t hide the truth with a makeover" Julie Freeman (Gayheart), eventually ostracized from the group like a bad dream, but with a ton of Damocles’ swords hovering overhead. To service the hunk-obsessed crowd is Ethan Erickson as the head jock/prom king Dane Sanders, with Chad Christ (Young Vincent in Gattaca) portraying the school outsider/head thespian and Julie’s love toy.

For us older folks, there were many recognizable walk-ons, including Carol Kane as the school principal, blaxploitation queen Pam Grier as Police Detective Vera Cruz, William Katt and P.J. Soles as the dead girl’s parents, and Jeff Conaway as an Oprah-obsessed father. Marilyn Manson’s brief appearance can be attributed to his significant other being the picture’s star.

The film sputters along, its characters adrift in search of a director (and a decent script). Throwaway scenes and bad humor bubble to the top of the coven’s cauldron, as a reference to the Karen Carpenter table in the school cafeteria showing four anorexic students sharing a box of raisin, or a mindless scene featuring Dane and Courtney sucking on a phallic popsicle in their underwear, as the temptress coos a double entendre at her stud muffin. Plot holes are abundant, including a whopper as to how the new-born diva ends up driving a red-hot sports car (license plate: BITCH), or the lack of any believable build up to the climactic senior prom.

Your dentist will tell you to stay away from sweets. I’d rather suffer root canal that burden myself with another viewing of Jawbreaker, or as I call it: Battle of the High School Bimbo Bitches. Class dismissed!


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