Mar 24, 2014

Review: Jawbreaker (1999)

Jawbreaker did not have a very warm critical reception when it came out. It's sitting at a 22 Metascore and has a 7% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Personally I think that's a bit harsh. Jawbreaker is a black comedy after all and critics don't seem to be too kind with the genre. Death to Smoochy comes to the top of my mind as a great black comedy which was not well received either.

Jawbreaker is a celebration/satire of movies set in high school with actors who quite obviously are too old to be there. The main characters are the popular girls you find in every high school which makes for an interesting story from that point of view. Director/Writer Darren Stein shows us that the rise and fall in popular status is unkind and merciless.

Rose McGowan is the leader of the trio and she plays it with glee. Her performance is clearly the highlight of Jawbreaker. Pam Grier's presence was also fun but there should have been way more of her. She provides a nice pulpy feel to an extremely colourful mise-en-scène. I also feel like there was some Tarantino inspiration here, especially with a specific scene that uses a car trunk.

Conventions like slo-mo walking down hallway scenes are used tongue-in-cheek. Also, transitions between scenes always feature music for the same soft of effect, which is definitely a tired cliché. Unfortunately, I felt that it was overused and lost its satirical effect.

 In terms of story, Jawbreaker begins with a bang and it sets up a really interesting premise. By the 30 minute mark, I feel like it loses a bit of its focus. It is supposed to be a comedy but I never really found anything that funny. It's amusing, especially at first but not for the whole movie. It's fun watching the catty interactions between characters as well as watching them grow in different directions but the story loses out as a result.

Additionally, I feel that Jawbreaker could have been more tense given the premise. The conclusion isn't as powerful as a result and really, I should have been sitting on the edge of my seat. It's a missed opportunity but Darren Stein has done well in creating a visually interesting picture as well as a paying tribute to past films in the same vein. Movies like Grease and Carrie come to mind.

Watch Jawbreaker for Rose McGowan's role as a popular girl ringleader, for its outrageous costumes and for its tributes to genre classics. I think it does represent a bit of a missed opportunity to truly turn genre conventions on its head but it's better than the critical reception would have you believe.


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