Jawbreaker is the very definition of a "rip-off." This uninspired teen comedy
takes equal parts Carrie (1976), Heathers (1989) and Clueless (1995) and mixes
in all the necessary teen movie clichés. Along the way writer/director Darren
Stein forgets to give the film a life of its own.
The film opens with a voice over from geeky Fern Mayo (Judy Greer) about the
four most popular girls at Reagan High: Courtney Shayne (Rose McGowan) who can
basically be summed up as Satan in heels, Julie Freeman (Rebecca Gayheart) a
good girl with the face of a supermodel, Marcie Fox (Julie Benz) a dim-witted
blonde who demands that people call her "Foxy", and Liz Purr (Charlotte
Roldan) an angel in disguise. Liz is everyone's favorite because she's both
beautiful and kind.
Liz is about to turn 17 and, as a prank, Courtney convinces the other girls to
help her in kidnapping Liz on her birthday morning. In order to keep Liz from
making any noise Courtney stuffs a jawbreaker into her mouth before they gag
her. They then stuff Liz in the trunk of Courtney's car but when they open it
later, Polaroid camera waiting to capture the moment, their lives will never
be the same: poor Liz has swallowed the jawbreaker and choked to death with it
lodged in her throat (the audience is treated to a few too many graphic looks
at Liz's dead body).
Courtney, thinking fast, decides to pass the death off as a rape/murder and
Marcie and a reluctant Julie assist her. Things get complicated when Fern
discovers what the three girls are up to. In order to keep her quiet Courtney
comes up with another plan and transforms geeky Fern into "Vylette", hoping
that she will also help to replace Liz in the minds of the devastated
Up until about this point the film is effective enough. However, an
investigation begins into Liz's death and the film becomes excessively dull.
The recently rediscovered talents of Pam Grier are thoroughly wasted in the
role of Detective Vera Cruz and the film is downright insipid in its treatment
of both the characters and the audience during this long middle stretch.
Courtney's plan to frame a sleazy guy (Marilyn Manson, in a brief cameo) is
never believable for a second.
Meanwhile, the audience is stuck watching a string of random events which fail
to develop the characters or add anything of interest to the plot. Julie
leaves the group and begins a lame romance with aspiring actor Zack (Chad
Christ). He apparently gives her the courage to turn on Courtney but the way
things develop only make Julie look stupid. Fern's rise to popularity is
We do get the best scene in the film (the only one with a spark of
originality) during this section. It's a smart and subversive bit where
Courtney gets the high school's resident jock stud Dane (Ethan Erickson) to
demonstrate, using a popsicle, exactly what he would like for her to do to
him. It at least provides us with a look at Courtney's personality but the
way the scene finishes doesn't make any sense.
Stein is very conscious of the teen movie tradition he is working in and not
only freely borrows major plot elements but also includes direct
acknowledgment of this with some stunt casting. William Katt and P.J. Soles
(students in Carrie) are Liz's distraught parents, Jeff Conaway (from Grease
(1978)) is Julie's creepy single dad and Carol Kane (the frightened babysitter
in When a Stranger Calls (1979)) camps it up as principal Miss Sherman.
At times Jawbreaker feels simply like Teen Cinema's Greatest Hits but the
audience is cheated with watered down interpretations of the best this genre
has to offer.
The only notable aspect of Jawbreaker is the incredibly stylish look. The
costume design by Vickie Brinkford and the production design by Jerry Fleming
are both bright and vivid. They were apparently instructed to work from the
color palette of a jawbreaker and the screen is always splashed with bits of
vibrant color. Director of photography Amy Vicent, who beautifully lensed
Eve's Bayou (1997), does a remarkable job here as well. Shot composition and
camera movement is consistently impressive.
Performances are mostly sub-par with McGowan providing only a few good moments
(compared with her excellent work in The Doom Generation (1995) and Scream
(1996)) and Gayheart making the biggest impression due to the sweet nature of
her character and her obvious beauty. None of the actors look as if they have
set foot inside a high school within the last five years with the exception of
actress/singer Tatyana Ali, who has a small role as a cheerleader. The male
cast all resemble male models and are credited with names like "Auto Stud,"
"College Stud," and "High School Stud #2."
The soundtrack is decent and Imperial Teen's catchy "Yoo Hoo" makes a bigger
impression than any other aspect of the film.
Copyright © 1999 Dustin Putman