Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Jawbreaker

By Marc Savlov

FEBRUARY 23, 1999: 

D: Darren Stein; with Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz, Judy Evans Greer, Chad Christ, Ethan Erickson, Charlotte Roldan, Pam Grier, Carol Kane, P.J. Soles, William Katt, Marilyn Manson. (R, 87 min.)

Is high school today really this treasonous? All I can remember is getting sidelined for wearing a Plasmatics T-shirt with a too-fleshy Wendy O. Williams on it. That and the occasional parking-lot fisticuffs with Joe Tough Guy. Granted, the cliques have always been in place, enforced, and as inescapable as the pre-date zit forming like a hellish bullseye dead square on your panicky forehead, but newcomer Stein's vision of life among the quick, dead, and gorgeous plays like GoodFellas meets Pygmalion meets Heathers. That's all peachy keen until you suddenly realize Jawbreaker has all the heart and soul of last week's mystery loaf (a dish that made the weekly rounds at my alma mater, sadly). And like that unidentifiable bovine by-product, the film is a chilly, messy anti-treat, sweet on the outside, sickly on the in. It's Heathers without the wry wit, Blackboard Jungle sans the fun, Very Bad Things with more ick. Like the high school it so ably portrays, it's a nasty piece of business, calculating, coolly efficient, and deeply pessimistic on levels to which even I don't usually go. (On the plus side, it does have a helluva cast.) Former Gregg Araki stablemate and Marilyn Manson paramour Rose McGowan plays Courtney Shayne, the leader of Reagan High's beautiful people. Along with sidewinder fillies Julie (Gayheart), Marcie (Benz), and Liz (Roldan), she embodies school-time's fleshy excess. When Courtney and her friends jokingly kidnap good-girl Liz on her birthday, they accidentally asphyxiate her (with the titular jawbreaker), sending the glam crew into a frenzy of guilt, doubt, and Nietzchean ballistics. Adding insult to homicide, class wallflower Fern Mayo (Greer) spots the clean-up action, and fearing for her life, submits to a makeover and the chance to "replace" the still-sultry Liz. From here on out it's a battle of egos, with the newly popular Fern ditching that tired moniker for the more avant-stupid "Violette" and running amok, a Frankensteinian Sandy from Grease III: The Hellion. There are some surprises amongst the muck: Teen punk quartet the Donnas appear as themselves, Pam Grier makes a one-note cameo as a hard-boiled investigating detective (even in a tired cameo like this she devours the screen), and Carrie alumni Soles and Katt give it their all. No pig's blood, though it is alluded to. Which brings us to Marilyn Manson's acting debut. All eleven seconds of it. Spooky Kids expecting the second coming of Anton LaVey will be disappointed by the cadaverous one's brief -- albeit oozily creepified -- performance as one of McGowan's slimy, mustachioed accomplices. Of course the big question is does Jawbreaker live up to its direct antecedent, Michael Lehmann's Heathers. The answer? In your dreams, Veronica.
1.5 stars


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