Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Special Edition DVD
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, pan&scan, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 87 min., $24.95, street date 6/22/99.
Directed by Darren Stein. Starring Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz, Judy Greer, Carol Kane, Pam Grier.
High School. A time of sweet innocence. Untainted youth. Goal-oriented teenagers. NOT! At fictional Reagan High, these are the times of feeling awkward and discovering who you are while trying to fit in with everyone else. And belonging to a "clique" is a life or death matter, especially when that clique rules the school.
A lively, loving parody of the high school comedy and horror films of the past 20 years, Jawbreaker follows the exploits of the most powerful clique at Reagan High. Courtney Shane (McGowan), Julie Freeman (Gayheart), Marcie Fox (Benz) and Liz Purr (Roldan) are all best friends. Or, to be more precise, they are drawn together by their appreciation for each other as the most popular and the most beautiful girls at Reagan. They are at the height of their popularity when an innocent birthday prank results in the accidental death of Liz, the sweetest member of the the clique. The class nerd, Fern Mayo (Greer) stumbles in on the girls' panicked attempts to cover up their involvement in Lizs death. What results is a dark, comical Faustian tale of corruption, redemption and makeover madness.
Man, will I be happy when Hollywood stops churning out all these dopey high school movies! A few of them do okay so the dam bursts! It's gotta end, I tell ya!
(So why'd you rent Jawbreaker, guy?)
Uhhh... 'Cause Rose McGowan's pretty hot, I guess. (My motto: If it's good enough for Manson, it's good enough for me!)
Okay, that wasn't the only reason I watched Jawbreaker. Yes, it's another high school movie, but I'd heard it was one with a bit more bite; it received a lot of comparisons to the dark humor of Heathers, so I thought it was worth a shot.
Overall, it's a pretty entertaining and interesting satire of high school. There's not really anything here that we haven't seen before, although much of it is taken to an extreme, what with the ruthless popular girl and the nerd who enjoys her moment in the sun just a little too much.
My main problem with Jawbreaker is that it's a tremendously inconsistent film. It really flies all over the place and leaves much logic hanging in the wind. For example, McGowan's character Courtney (a slam at Love? Methinks yea!) wants to make it appear as though Liz, the girl they've accidentally killed, died during some kinky sexuality. As such, she and the other girls try to place her in a situation that makes it appear as though this happened. Courtney even gets it on with a stranger (Manson, in a "cumeo") in Liz's bedroom to add credence.
One major problem: Liz was apparently a virgin. You don't think the coroner's going to notice that? I guess the only feasible way around this was to have Manson do it with Liz's corpse, but that probably seemed like too much, so we got this shoddy compromise.
Much of the movie goes by in such illogical, scattershot fashion. One minute newly spruced-up nerd Fern - who is now called "Vylette" (another Love slam, taking from the song Violet? Maybe I'm reading too much into this!) - is racked with doubt and worry, but then she's shown frolicking and becoming so self-confident that she takes over the top bitch status in school. Huh? Did I miss something here?
Really the only thing holding this sucker together is the fabulous performance of McGowan. She offers the definitive portrait of a nasty, manipulative high school hottie. Courtney's so cold but yet still so appealing all at the same time; through McGowan's force of personality, it's easy to see how she could get away with so much cruelty. As disjointed and forgettable as much of the movie is, McGowan makes the entire project work.
No one else in the cast can really compare with her, though the others hold their own. Julie Benz offers some nice work as Courtney's second in command, Marcie "Foxy" Fox; she's not nearly as strong a person as Courtney, but her eagerness to please her boss makes her even scarier. I liked seeing Pam Grier as Detective Vera Cruz (really!) but she's largely wasted in an unnecessary role. Although she's apparently there to put the heat on the girls and scare them, her impact upon the plot is almost nil; the eventual conclusion would have happened with or without her intervention.
In the category of "pretty but little else" fall cutie Rebecca Gayheart - at no time do we believe she's any match for McGowan - and Chad Christ, who succeeds mainly in looking frighteningly like Ethan Hawke (which is probably why he was cast as the younger version of Hawke's character in Gattaca). Judy Greer's pretty good as Fern/Vylette, though she's more convincing in the nerd role; she's an attractive woman, but she couldn't quite pull off Vylette's neo-bitchiness.
Ultimately Jawbreaker offers an entertaining satire of the horrors of high school, but it does it with little new insight or much originality. The whole thing feels very padded and overlong, which is an unusual criticism for an 87 minute film. Still, it's a pretty fun movie, largely because of the malicious glee Rose McGowan brings to her part.
Columbia Tristar (CTS) have done a pretty good job with the DVD of Jawbreaker. They're known for the high quality of their picture transfers, and this DVD won't hurt that reputation. It's a very colorful movie, and these bright and vivid hues come through very well. The image also looks sharp and relatively clean, though grain does pop up at time. Whatever few faults I saw seem to stem mostly from the low budget of the project. Even so, there's little to complain about here.
I also really enjoyed the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of Jawbreaker. It provided a surprisingly robust surround environment, with judicious use of the rear speakers. The music - most of which featured pop/rock songs cued in to the action - really shined here; the tunes spread nicely between channels and packed a solid sonic punch. The remainder of the audio sounded fine as well; dialogue occasionally sounded a little flat, but again, the low budget origins of the film probably caused this. The sound still was very pleasing.
Jawbreaker offers a few supplements, but nothing terribly special. The star of the show is the audio commentary from director Darren Stein. It's decent but unspectacular. He's a young director, and as happens frequently with relative neophytes, Stein seems much more impressed with his work than the product really merits. Don't worry, he doesn't spend the entire film complementing himself, but I just got the feeling that he thought Jawbreaker was much more clever and original than it actually was. I also got very tired of hearing Stein use the word "timeless." The commentary added to my enjoyment of the film, but not by much.
The remaining extras fall into the usual categories. We have four trailers (for Jawbreaker, Urban Legend, Gattaca, and Can't Hardly Wait), some decent cast and crew biographies, and some moderately interesting production notes in the DVD's booklet. Nothing special, but certainly worth checking out.
In the end, the same can be said for Jawbreaker: it's worth a look, but it's probably not going to bowl you over. It's a solid rental, but I wouldn't purchase it until you're sure you really like it. If that's the case, you'll probably be very happy with this DVD; if offers nice quality sound and picture and some decent extras.
Current as of 7/6/99
Official Site--There's nothing here that will interest you to see the film, besides the requisite cast and behind-the-scene info you get plenty of clips and trailers to download. Zzzz...!