Saturday, June 25, 2011

Even Great Direction Cannot Save The Uninspired Jawbreaker!

The Good: Moments of humor, Creative direction.
The Bad: Lame character development, Predictable plot, Stiff acting, Utterly ridiculous, Frequently overbearing soundtrack, Repetitive.
The Basics: As much as I was prepared to enjoy Jawbreaker, it fell way too flat.

There is an ever-shortening list of movies that I am actually looking forward to seeing, largely because in the last decade of me reviewing films, I have made a real effort to see virtually everything I truly wanted to. But somewhere down on that list was Jawbreaker, a dark comedy that was moved to the top of the list the other day when my wife wasn’t feeling so well and wanted to get out movies to watch. When I arrive home to be with her, she had not yet begun watching Jawbreaker, so we watched it together.

My wife is a lot more lenient on movies for the style points than I am. When we concluded watching Jawbreaker, my wife – who had been lauding the creativity of the film’s director throughout our viewing – noted that the movie was not as good as she remembered it, outside how creatively the movie was shot. And she’s right. Jawbreaker is a very easy film to watch because it is intriguing to the eyes as writer and director Darren Stein shakes up the familiar high school dramedy with intriguing camera moves, a satirically bright color scheme and transitions that shows the story well beyond how it is told. Unfortunately, the movie that is presented so well is hardly all that interesting of a film and it is backed by actresses who are more shaky or stiff on their deliveries than the parts require and Jawbreaker left me utterly bored as a result.

The most popular girls in high school are a clique of four, led by the uber-bitchy Courtney. Flanked by Julie, Marcie and Liz, the quartet rules Reagan High. On her birthday, Liz is abducted by the other three with the plan being to take her out to breakfast and then playfully torture her as part of an annual hazing ritual. Liz has a jawbreaker stuffed in her mouth, which is then taped closed, and she is bound and thrown in the trunk of Courtney’s car. When they open the trunk to let Liz out for breakfast, they discover their friend has died and Courtney sets about to covering up the crime.

Unfortunately, while posing Liz’s body in her bed at home – Courtney’s plan to make it look like Liz was raped by a transient – the nerdy student, Fern, walks in and witnesses the girls attempting the cover-up. While Julie wants to come clean to the authorities, Courtney pitches another idea to Fern; she will have Fern made over to become popular and join the clique in exchange for her silence. As Fern becomes Courtney’s pet project Vylette, Julie is kicked from the group and her new relationship with the school’s leading man in the school play becomes a battlefield upon which Courtney seeks to continue to dominate her former friend’s life.

Jawbreaker could have been good, but it quite simply isn’t ambitious enough. Criminally absent from the film are parents who have any clue as to what might be going on with the young women. Jeff Conaway, for example, has little more than a cameo wherein he tries to influence Marcie and get her to be nicer. After the transformation of Fern to Vylette, Fern’s parents are entirely absent from the narrative. How could they not notice the radical transformation in their daughter?! And how stupid do the writers and director truly think young people are these days that not a single one of them would notice that one of the people they have been going to school with has disappeared? And how is it that none of the teachers or administrators seem to know that Vylette is Fern, even after the police investigator is set straight?!

Jawbreaker, then, is supposed to be some form of mindless fun where basic logic is not applied to the movie or its characters. We are supposed to appreciate the spinning effect connecting Fern’s transformation with the preparation of Liz’s body for burial, the way the parents open the door and the police step through to create the crime scene and the way Courtney’s framejob includes how she herself hooks up with a stranger in Liz’s bed. And stylistically, the movie is interesting to watch.

But it doesn’t work. On the plot front, this is a remarkably linear narrative wherein a group of liars has their lie exposed. Slowly, four high school girls learn that it is important to tell the truth. Maybe the movie would have worked better if the creators had lost the sex appeal of the leads and made it a story set in kindergarten instead. The plot progression is fairly obvious and as the movie develops, it goes in exactly the direction a seasoned moviegoer will expect.

As for the characters, viewers are expected to believe that everyone surrounding high school is a complete idiot. Courtney is manipulative and powerful within the school and somehow, Fern is attracted to becoming like her instead of smart enough to say “I don’t want to be as low a human being as you are.” And Julie, who is ostracized then Vylette takes her place in the clique is so slow to turn Courtney in to the police that one has to wonder how much being popular ever meant to her. Sure, there’s the humanizing scene wherein Julie calls Vylette up and reminds her of when they were younger and actually hung out, but it feels forced and because it has no immediate consequence on either girl, it seems generic and cheap, too.

Then there are the police. I can get why teenagers would think a plan like Courtney’s might work and why they exist in her orbit, but how the police detective buys it to the extent that she will not open up the case when Julie eventually comes clean is utterly ridiculous. Pam Grier gives one of the better performances in Jawbreaker simply by playing the police detective with a straight face.

Outside her, the acting is almost homogenously bad. Rebecca Gayheart seems to be trying to get by with her performance by opening her eyes real wide and pretending that makes her character of Julie something. Julie Benz illustrates none of the intelligence as Marcie that allowed her to play Darla in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel expertly. And Rose McGowan is more stiff when playing Courtney as cold and deadly, making me think she is either a real nice woman in person or a truly terrible actress in this role.

The winner for performance, though, would have to be Judy Greer. Greer plays Fern and Vylette and my wife and I have been enjoying watching her in the role of Kitty on Arrested Development (season one reviewed here!) of late. Greer is a wonderful character actress and in Jawbreaker she plays mousy amazingly and empowered equally well. Even when the character’s actions make no real sense, Greer makes her seem plausible and she is a pleasure to watch throughout.

But that ought not to make it seem like I endorse watching Jawbreaker. At its best moments, I was still bored and at the worst parts, I was utterly disappointed.

For other works set primarily in schools, please check out my reviews of:
Bad Teacher
Freaks And Geeks
Easy A


For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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