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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/18/99

1998 (1999) Columbia/TriStar

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Jawbreaker Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+, A, A-

Specs and Features

87 mins, R, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, commentary track with director Darren Stein, 4 theatrical trailers (Jawbreaker, Can't Hardly Wait, Urban Legend and Gattaca), production notes, cast and crew bios, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

I dig Rose McGowan. Now don't take that to mean I have the hots for her, 'cause I don't. She's not really my jug of wine. I really dig her persona -- she's a bitch in heat, a monster in heels, and may she forever strike terror in all men's hearts. Aside from The Doom Generation, McGowan hasn't really been given a real chance to shine. Try as she might, most of her performances have been compromised by lackluster films. If you're looking for an example of what I mean, check out Phantoms. Better yet, don't. McGowan's turnaround flick would have to be Jawbreaker, and even if the film is a stale riff on teen high school flicks (and a blatant homage to Carrie and Heathers), she and her female co-stars all transcend the film. McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz and Judy Greer, really steal all the energy from this film, and manage to become something bigger than this film could ever hope to be.

If you can tell that I'm not that big a fan of Jawbreaker... well, good, because I'm not. Jawbreaker is one of those "potential" films. Heathers, which this film so very much wants to be, was cool because it really didn't know it was even close to cool. It was the polar opposite of every teen flick that came before it - it was a black comedy, not because it tried too hard to be, but because it just sprung out and gotcha. Jawbreaker, on the other hand, is so planned and purposeful, that I felt like I wrote the damn thing. The sad thing is, I think the movie director/writer Darren Stein had in his head, is so much better than what he gave us here, that I have to guiltily call his talent as a director into question. Listening to his commentary, you can hear Darren discuss symbolism, metaphor and character study, but nowhere on-screen does any of this become apparent. Why? What I see without the commentary, is a John Waters film without the wit. A Fellini film without the style. An Araki film without the weirdness. The movie described by Darren, is a witty, campy extravaganza... that I wish I saw.

Let's discuss what works. The acting is stellar. Everyone is great. I singled out the ladies above, but all the male leads, and the cameos by Carol Kane, Pam Grier and Jeff Conway, are super. Hell, even all the extras are pretty damn good. Everyone hits their marks, delivers their lines, and winks at the audience in such a way that you end up liking everyone -- even bitch o' the month, Ms. Rose McGowan. So it's not the actors or the characters fault.

It's not the script either. Here's the story: three girlfriends (McGowan, Gayheart and Benz) pull a prank and abduct their best friend on her 17th birthday (gagging her with a giant jawbreaker), only to find that she choked to death in the truck of their car. They stage her death to look like a rape, but find out that there's a witness (Judy Greer). They offer her a deal: don't tell and they will make her popular. The only problem is, if they're capable of murder, what will they do when she become more popular than them? It sounds like a drama, or even a horror film, but it turns into a very warped comedy. It ends up being not warped enough though, and even if the lines do roll off the tongues of the capable cast, the film doesn't quite zing the way it should.

It's also not the look -- bold colors, brilliant set and clothing design, and nice editing tricks (complete with sound effects and wipes) all add to the surreal nature of the film. Such a horrible storyline is made "fun" by the camera work here. It's very refreshing looking work... that deserved a better film to show off in.

I have to say I blame the director (as opposed to the writer) Darren Stein. I think he thinks he's visually wittier than he really is. The film opens with a intro of the girls, saying that we know these girls, because every high school has a group of girls like this. Well, we all knew someone like Darren in school as well - the artist who thought his drawings of the teacher were soooooo funny. I don't know Darren, so this is all based on his scene-by-scene commentary track, and what shows up on-screen. The track (one of the extras on the disc, and a very good one considering) goes on about the film, filling it with so much underlying themes, that you would have thought it was someone's thesis project. The very fact that the filmmaker had to explain every moment in the film, isn't a very good sign. Darren did do a good job with the acting, and he also did a good job with the camera, don't get me wrong, it's a fun film. I just think it could have been so much more than that. There's something missing here -- I can put words to it. One thing that springs to mind is lack of emotion, but since I enjoyed the performances so much, I can't say that would be quite right. I'm almost at a loss for words (Shock! Gasp!).

I think the film, for most, is a fun romp -- not really anything you'll talk about at the water cooler, or a film you'll hear referenced anytime soon. It's just a movie. I feel that if Stein was as witty as he thought he was, he would have been able to make the audience see what he's talking about in the commentary. For example, according to Stein, the opening credit sequence (where we follow a jawbreaker from milky birth to rock hard fruition, juxtaposed with collage photos of the girls as friends growing up), is a metaphor for a girl's journey into womanhood. Huh? The circular nature of the film (read: the hoop earrings Gayheart wears), represents the murder device -- the jawbreaker. Oh-kaaaay. Whatever, I'm not buying that one for a dollar.

Let's talk DVD. The disc is fine -- no worries folks. Extras are good, including the "interesting" commentary track, theatrical trailers, production notes, and cast and crew information. The highlight of the disc is a nice transfer with great sound (in both DD 5.1 and DD 2.0). The mix uses sound effects nicely, and comes across very naturally. On the "flip" side, you can choose widescreen or full-frame (by flipping the disc - get it?), and the widescreen is anamorphic enhanced (which we at the Bits like -- a lot). The flick is English language only, but considering that it probably wouldn't translate very well anyway, that isn't too much of a loss.

If you're a McGowan fan, you really can't go wrong by checking this disc out. That is, if you're just watching the movie for her. Man, I wish I wasn't a jaded film critic with lofty ambitions, because... well, I think I really would have enjoyed Jawbreaker otherwise.

Todd Doogan
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