Jawbreaker

on February 19, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
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In order for "Jawbreaker" to be accurately categorized as a "black comedy," which seems to be its intention, it would need to be both black and a comedy. The first half of the equation is there, via a macabre plot that revolves around the accidental murder of a sweet high school girl. However, the attempts at humor are so dependent on cliches and the foreseen actions of flat characters that instead of expressing the genre's characteristic biting irony, the film is replete with straightforward, and rather simplistic, youth-based jokes.
   The film opens with three members of Reagan High's most popular clique--evil leader Courtney ("Scream's" Rose McGowan), willing follower Marcie (Julie Benz), and ultimately good-hearted Julie ("Urban Legend's" Rebecca Gayheart)--kidnapping fourth member Liz (Charlotte Roldan) as a birthday prank. The mock abduction goes horribly wrong when Courtney, as part of the joke, sticks the offending title candy in Liz's mouth as a muzzle-device. Liz chokes to death, and the girls react by attempting to cover-up the mishap. Julie is plagued by her conscience, Courtney is remorseless and Marcie is only interested in preserving her standing with the leader of the pack. Requisite school dweebette Fern (Judy Greer) accidentally stumbles upon the clique's cover-up scheme, and Courtney buys her silence by transforming her into one of the Beautiful People. The made-over Fern ends up replacing Julie, who has been banished from the group for daring to disagree with Courtney.
   What might have been an intriguing send-up of high school conformity and the lust for popularity is ultimately ineffective because the slices of teen-age existence it attempts to ridicule are unconvincing. Moreover, bits about how uncool it is to have a paper bag lunch or to sit at the Gothic kids table are almost as outdated as the valley girl lingo favored by Benz's character.
   The most unfortunate thing about "Jawbreaker" has to be its blatant imitation of 1989's vastly superior "Heathers." Beyond the similarities in plots involving the four-person female clique and the accidental murder of one of its members, are the aped visual and thematic concepts. Sentimental references to simpler elementary school times, guilt emerging from snapshots of the deceased embracing her murderous friend, and overdone color coordination in clothing are just a few of the elements present in both films. Nonetheless, "Jawbreaker's" unrelenting soundtrack and liberal use of the B-word, combined with the fact that "Heathers" happened a whole decade ago, could make it a success with the current teen crowd. Starring Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz and Judy Greer. Written and directed by Darren Stein. Produced by Stacy Kramer and Lisa Tornell. A TriStar release. Comedy. Rated R for violence, strong language and sexuality. Running time: 97 min.
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