Monday, December 22, 2008

Jawbreaker (Darren Stein, 1999)

Question: When you were in high school, did any of the girls wear stockings with seams? Personally, I can't remember anyone who wore stockings at all, let alone ones with seams. Such is one of the many interesting stylistic conundrums that flooded my psyche as I gazed upon the super sheer glow of Jawbreaker (a.k.a. Der Zuckersüße Tod), a dark, yet optically soothing film about candy-based manslaughter and the pressures that come with trying to fit in at a cruel collegiate institute. The teens that populate this hyper-colourful adolescent world all looked as if they were pushing thirty. I mean, they didn't look "too old" in the classic sense, they just looked overly sophisticated; hence, the seams. However, it seemed to go beyond archaic stocking design. In that, the confidence the main characters projected had an almost regal air. This royal smell is most prominently on display when the catty foursome find themselves walking down the hall in slow motion to the strains of Imperial Teen. Opening with the semi-accidental killing of the benevolent member of a cocksure clique of chichi seniors, Jawbreaker manages to out Heather Heathers with its morbid commencement: Three girls plan on celebrating their friends birthday by pretending to kidnap her and doing all sorts of prankish deeds to her lively organic structure. Unfortunately, things go terribly wrong from the get-go, when an ill-conceived gagging technique goes awry and their angelic friend ends up asphyxiating on a golf ball-size ball of dissolving candy (a.k.a. a jawbreaker or gobstopper).

The alpha female of the group immediately takes control of the unique situation and all seems to be going "peachy fucking keen" (a weak yet plausible cover-up is already in the works).

Then Fern Mayo shows up.

Now, the film's tone is pretty toxic up until this point; thus, my comparison to the Daniel Waters penned classic. However, things don't stay so dark for long. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's got lot's of bite here and there. It's just that it softens a tad after the body is hauled away.

What I did enjoy this time around was the unspecific approach to when the film actually takes place. The moderately-sized cell phones, some of the music, and references to cyberspace put it taking place squarely in the late 1990s. But everything else had an indistinct quality about it that kept me guessing. For example, they use of an old style diner, the drive-in theatre, the Connie Francis ditty, and the car the hunky hero (Chad Christ) drove all screamed 1955.

Unclear periods of time are great and stuff, but what keeps coming back to Jawbreaker again and again is the opportunity to bask in the coordinated attractiveness of Rebecca Gayheart, Rose McGowan, Judy Greer, and Julie Benz. I mention Julie last because her Marcie Fox fails to exhibit any individuality (she's a sycophant of the worst kind). Though, I should say, Miss Benz does garner two or three hardy laughs.

The always amazing Judy Greer gets to play two characters: The socially awkward Fern Mayo and the instantly popular Vylette. The chance to go from grungy earth-tones to gaudy pinks must have been a joy for Miss Greer. And, for some strange reason, the way she towers over McGowan and Benz during the slo-mo walking sequences always cracks me up.

The statuesque Judy narrates the film's prologue and to hear one of favourite actresses call another one of my favourite actresses "the leggy one" was the kind of treat only I could extract pleasure from. The actress denoted as leggy was the fabulous Rebecca Gayheart, who gives a measured performance as Julie Freeman, the films conscious. I never noticed this before but I was quite impressed by the physical dominance she had over the other ladies. Check out her proficiency during the film's many walking scenes for proof of this control.

The high school equivalent of a genocidal madwoman, Rose McGowan is a force of nature as Courtenay Shayne. Immoral, unscrupulous, mean-spirited, and a tad kinky, the shapely actress is gorgeously evil from start to finish. Boasting not a single redeeming quality, I loved the pure nastiness of character. Plus, I can't imagine any school allowing someone that sexy to walk halls of their installation. An impotent principal (the always appealing Carol Kane) tries to curb Courtnay's sexiness by asking her to button up her blouse, but such actions are rendered futile when looked at from a distance. Seriously, you can see her delicious curves from space.

Anyway, I truly believe, if given the chance, that Rose's character would kill a million people if, say, there was some sort of lip gloss theft or an incident involving a broken heel. Yep, she's that depraved.

The legendary Pam Grier, Riff Randell herself P.J. Soles, Ann Russo (credited as Ann Zupa), Marilyn Manson, Jeff Conaway (as Marcie's dad), Lisa Robin Kelly (Laurie from That 70's Show), The Donnas and the tastily stemmed Tatyana Ali all make brief appearances throughout the film, but they're not in it enough to justify any sort of long-winded spiel.



  1. Really enjoyed that write-up, thanks! I'm a big fan of this film - in fact I'd say the award for most underrated performer of the film is Stephen Endelmen's score! The overcranked walking scenes you mention hold a particular resonance in my view thanks to some great touches from Endelmen.

    Come to think of it the girls did wear stockings (more in the form of pantyhose or tights) when I was in high school which was over twenty years ago. As for seams? Occasionally, if us lads were lucky, at a major event like a dance. Those were the days... Stellar post.

  2. I loved Jawbreaker. One of the better ugly duckling turned sex bomb films. I originally got it because I was on a bit of a Donnas kick at the time (a weird choice for that school's prom). I loved the closing sequence with McGowan being pelted with garbage as Young at Heart plays. Her framing Marilyn Manson in full "Guido" regalia to Rock You Like a Hurricane is also a great scene. Great use of music in this one.

    The film reminds me a bit of Daniel Handler's The Basic Eight, which was published the year before. It's not terribly close, so not implying any story infringement, but has the same sort of ultra-chic clique, murder, and a mystery dual character. Handler, btw, is Lemony Snicket of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" fame. His books as Handler are significantly darker (which is a bit hard to do, surprisingly), and typically involve what squares might call immorality. Worth checking out, if you are a reader :-)

  3. Chick -- Hey, thanks, man. I'm glad you enjoyed my post.

    I tell you what, next time I watch Jawbreaker (which is usually once a year) I'll be sure to keep my ears open for Stephen Endelmen's score.

    I remember seeing a lot of pantyhose and tights (you know, long winters and such) at my school. But stockings with seams? That's pretty chic.

    Darius -- How come I never went through a Donnas kick? *sniff* Seriously, I'm glad to hear that there are other fans of this movie roaming around. Oh, and nice use of the term "Guido regalia."

    From what I've read about The Basic Eight (in the past five seconds) it sounds like it would make a great movie. In other words, there's no chance it's gonna get made.

  4. I think there was some talk of making 8 into a movie, but Handler apparently took a lot of heat over the book. It does involve a teenage mass murder, at least one gay character [I'll pause while Americans gasp :-)], and absinthe... Handler wrote the screenplays for Rick and Kill the Poor, neither of which I have seen. He was involved in the ASoUE screenplay, but was probably too close to the material and got fired. Apparently he was happy with how it turned out though (his commentary as Lemony Snicket on the DVD is pretty funny).

    BTW: I had to download the Jawbreaker soundtrack. Worth the 10USD to download, if only to see the wife do her Rose McGowan impersonation of slow-mo walking to Yoo Hoo :-D. Listening to She Bop by Howie Beno atm.

  5. Hey, Yum! Merry Christmas. :)

    I had a dream some two-three weeks ago about going through Toronto's gift shops and cafeterias (?!) searching for you, while on a school trip. Crazy, eh? :)

    I've seen Jawbreaker a few months ago based on your recommendation. It was really enjoyable, but I guess I didn't like it as much as I expected (and wanted) to. Carol Cane, as much as I like her, seems to play the very same annoying character she would play later in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. I loved Gayheart, though, and could watch her, MacGowan and Judy Greer (!) in anything.

    For your Christmas listening/viewing pleasure, here is my favorite Ken Laszlo song (Do any of his lyrics make sense?) and here is some Mylène Farmer, beacuse I've been so obsessed with her lately and want to spread the love. Hope you enjoy all of these. :)

  6. Darius: Mr. Handler's situation sounds similar to the one the people who want to make Donna Tartt's A Secret History into a movie. I guess murder and academia are off limits nowadays.

    Rico: Hey Hey Guy, Merry Christmas.

    Crazy, indeed. I mean, cafeterias? :D

    It took me at least three viewings to fully appreciate where Jawbreaker head is at.

    Oooh, more Lazlo gold. "Glasses man... you never open your eyes." It guess it sort of makes sense.

    The contrast between those two Mylène Farmer video is quite shocking. The newish one has a nice sheen to it, but I prefer the ringleader outfit/poolside Speedo fest.

  7. Oh, the Libertine version I've sent you is not the official video, it's just an intentionally cheesy television performance one can only adore. There is a 10-minute video full of nudity directed by Laurent Boutonnat (Farmer's "partner in crime" since the beginning - he writes and produces all of her music (except for the lyrics, which are written by Farmer herself) and has directed almost all of her videos (which are usually around ten minutes long short films), except for some made in the mid-1990s when she was in the United States -- Abel Ferara's California I've sent you being one of them).

    Hey, I've never asked you - do you speak French? :)

    Anyways, I hope everything's calm over there in Toronto with no winter storms coming your way.

  8. Hey, did you know Mylène Farmer was born in Montreal? Of course, judging by your extensive Farmer knowledge, you probably already know that. :)

    Nah, I don't speak French. Which is kinda sad considering it was a part of the curriculum for a good size chunk of my school days.

    It's calm. In fact, it's gonna be mild tomorrow with a high of 10°C.

  9. Haha, yes, I was going to mention that she was your fellow Canadian, but I thought the trivia track might become a bit too annoying. :)

    I don't speak French either, but am really eager to learn it. I'm planning on taking some lessons next year.

    As for the temperature, it seems to be about the same as it is here.

    Oh, I've discovered Vicious Pink a couple of weeks ago through some music blog and I really like their stuff, although these aren't really my "obscure new wave" days, so I haven't been listening much to them lately.

  10. I love Vicious Pink. As well as their earlier incarnation, Vicious Pink Phenomena.

  11. ::Question: When you were in high school, did any of the girls wear stockings with seams? Personally, I can't remember anyone who wore stockings at all, let alone ones with seams. ::

    Well, truth be told, I did. I was barely in high school when Jawbreaker came out, being a Freshman that year. It should be noted that I was teased mercilessly from Kindergarten onward for not only my fashion choices and curious sock obsession but also for my laugh, my black hair and pale skin, my choice of words, the fact that I was fully physically mature at 11 years old and monstrously/datelessly tall for a girl, if you just said I got teased for *everything* that would be correct. I didn't have a friend in the world back then. Most people who weren't total dicks (but still too afraid to hang out with me or be seen talking to me, lest my dark taint creep into their souls) thought I was shy just because I didn't talk to anyone, but it was really that I didn't care less about their opinions, and I really just wanted to be at home reading a book. Kind of similar to now, any kind of 'sexy' I would or do have I generally ignore, and I live as a relative hermit basking in the richness of my imaginary world which is always much better than reality.

    Which brings me to thanking you for your excellent taste in movies, music, and leg coverings. Your blog is a watchlist for all those things I missed somehow, or was otherwise too young to encounter at the time.

  12. Thanks for the awesome comment, Raradolly.