Director: Darren Stein
Starring: Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz
Release date: January 30 (US, movie debut). Safe to say I wasn’t expecting this when I first saw the title, thought I was getting torture-porn horror or something. May contain the loss of the will to live and spoilers…
All’s not peachy at Reagan High; the ‘Flawless 4’ are about to be ‘3’. It’s Liz’s birthday and for a laugh, her friends Courtney, Julie and Marcie kidnap her in preparation for a day of extended merriment. However, upon her release from the boot of their car they discover Liz has accidentally choked on the gobstopper Courtney stuffed in her mouth before gagging her: “I killed Liz. I killed the teen dream. Deal with it.” So, what would you do? Admit it was a prank gone terribly wrong or cover the whole thing up?
Wouldn’t be a movie if they did the former, huh? Therefore, I suppose the easiest thing to do is take her back home, sit her up in bed, book by her side and make it look like she swallowed the candy ball by accident after a spell of over-exuberant sucking. Courtney (Rose McGowan) takes charge, decides to make it look like rape and goes so far as to entice a stranger for sex (the stranger, you’ll barely recognise him, is played by Marilyn Manson) and… well, I’m not sure how that works out with regard to planting the sticky ‘evidence’. Courtney, Queen Bitch Of The Universe, isn’t having her beautiful world ruined by anything so mundane as death. Things are further complicated by Fern Mayo (Judy Greer) who overhears the girls arguing about what to do. Fern is a dowdy outsider who walks invisible among her school mates. Courtney promises to make her one of the ‘Flawless’ in return for her silence. Fern finds the offer irresistible and accepts. Julie (Rebecca Gayheart) doesn’t like it one bit and drifts onto the fringes of popularity while Fern’s star rises. Rather too quickly. Courtney becomes jealous and seeks to destroy the monster she has created.
Jawbreaker is an insufferably smug movie. It’s not clever. It’s not amusing. It’s barely even satire. All surface, no feeling – much like Courtney. From a technical aspect it’s extremely well shot and snappily edited and at 83 minutes the flick should breeze by. It doesn’t; Jawbreaker steams out of the trap early and runs like fuck for 20 minutes then stands there, hands on knees, doubled over and panting for the next 40. For the final 20, director Stein peddles like a maniac to prove he ain’t all about the cynicism and bootiful people really do have a heart. On route, he’s sniffing around Heathers (perhaps Carrie too), a tongue-lolling groupie desperate for an autograph. Despite one or two jabs of needle-sharp dialogue, much of the script is a gurgling drain of rank effluent. I was actively angry enough to stop the film and go for a walk. I even considered cheating, replacing this shit load with something else. Maybe I’m not clever enough to understand what the director is attempting to convey and someone on here can put me on the right rue. In the meantime…
Black comedy. As a genre, an acquired taste. I don’t pretend to know the proper definition of (or fully understand) black comedy. For me, a blackly comedic situation should work on two levels; you can go ahead and laugh but when the film is over, that discomfort you felt in laughing should provoke sober reflection. I’m not squeamish, but the scene in which Courtney and Marcie strive to arrange the body in the manner of, as they see, a rape victim, along with a strong suggestion of further off-camera violation, is beyond grotesque. This is not uncomfortably funny; it’s not funny. Neither is it provocative, unless you count the all-consuming disgust I felt as the scene progressed. To be fair, Julie voices this disgust for the audience. Miracle upon miracles, one detail works, that of a recordable greeting card which has captured Liz’s voice during her birthday abduction and upon opening it we hear her say; “What are you doing to me!” That’s quite clever and the card will come back into play later on. Other than that, with this single malignant scene, the film and Stein has lost me.
After that I’m looking for the movie to redeem itself, something unexpected, sharp, meaningful. Basically, we get Frankenstein (which must always be pronounced Fronk-en-shteen), Courtney getting her claws into Fern and creating a monster called ‘Vylette’ who replaces Julie and goes on to become a bigger draw than Courtney before the walls come crashing down around her. Not so much walls, but mocking posters of her previous ‘Fern’ incarnation. This section of the film features short scenes of no relative importance including a police investigation led by Detective Vera Cruz (whose name is oddly familiar) played by a plainly bored Pam Grier. The incredible thing about this investigation is she discounts a vital piece of information. On account of Courtney’s sexual meddling they have arrested their ‘rapist’ and are satisfied with the outcome. Yet, at the beginning of all this, Courtney phoned the school posing as Liz’s mum. I’m sure Liz’s mum would confirm she did not make that call herself. Evidently, Vera believes the suspect is the impersonator, but why would he even bother? It doesn’t buy him any time, he hasn’t left town. Bearing in mind he’ll be screaming blue murder about a dark-haired chick he nailed I would expect Cruz to make a connection with the phone call and a possible set-up, particularly as Julie comes forward with the truth.
I think Jawbreaker owes a debt to Twin Peaks as well, not just through Liz becoming a ‘Laura Palmer’ type figure. The film is punctuated by meanders into the realm of the surreal. Putting aside Stein’s Heathers cock stroking, I can’t help but wonder if Richard Kelly is a fan of Jawbreaker. I couldn’t get away from making a Donnie Darko comparison; the song-driven soundtrack; the neighbourhood in which the girls live; those slow-down moments of abstract… For example, the students frozen for a moment in time in a school corridor as the news of Liz’s death is announced, the only movement that of Julie, walking among them in time-lapse. That I liked. There’s a hallucinatory episode for Julie when the dead Liz appears to her in a swimming pool. We even get a little bit of animation as Fern fantasises about joining the dots (moles) on the back of Liz’s neck to make animal shapes. The flights of fancy, while welcome, don’t inform the plot as they did in Darko. If Kelly did snoop around this first, he’s lucky Stein made such a fucking goulash of it leaving the way clear.
It’s difficult to critique the performances; they are deliberately cartoon-like to blend in with the eye-watering colour palette. Rose McGowan plays a mean, calculating and vain harpy, plays it very well – I believe Rose is in reality exactly like Courtney. I fancy Rose McGowan and even I was sick of seeing her sullen, spite-filled face (but I didn’t tire of seeing her nicely packaged night slip!). Julie Benz plays the idiot, a follower, an extension of Courtney’s self-confidence. She’s barely present in the grand scheme of the plot. Rebecca Gayheart plays the do-right girl, the one with a moral compass but still needs a new boyfriend to focus it. Judy Greer shall be granted The Order Of The Charles Sheen™ – she wins. The duckling to a swan concept is hardly original but by far the most interesting arc on show, it’s like watching a swimmer rise too quickly and get the bends.
Subtext? Is Stein having a pop at school cliques? I’m past caring. I don’t want to talk about it anymore and you can’t make me. Tell you what; DVD remote controls should have a ‘fuck off’ button.
Have that, yer cunt. The Rude Gorilla
ThereWolf, June 2012