This is an apology. Specifically, an apology to Jawbreaker, the movie I dismissed back in 1999 as a Heathers rip-off. I did. I watched Jawbreaker, and then I dismissed it. And now I’m apologising. I’m apologising to Darren Stein. I’m apologising to Rose McGowan. I’m also apologising to Julie Benz, Rebecca Gayheart, and Judy Greer. I’M SORRY. But why the belated apology? Because I watched Jawbreaker again last night for the first time since it was released and…I got it. I really did. On the surface Jawbreaker is clearly indebted to Heathers; the colour coordinated cruelty of Wino Forever’s old gang clearly setting a template for Courtney Shane and co. But scratch beneath the shiny PVC surface and you’ll discover that Jawbreaker pure punk nihilism and darkness among the bright colours.
Here’s the plot with a nice sugary shell: three members of Reagan High’s premiere clique The Fabulous Four accidentally murder their friend Liz by stuffing a Jawbreaker in her mouth. They truss her up, take her out, and stick her in the boot of a fabulous car. By the time they arrive at school, their best friend and leader is dead. Not letting something as trivial as homicide get in the way of her fabulous lifestyle, Courtney Shayne (“Satan in high heels”) frames Marilyn Manson (!) for the death and continues life as she sees fit. Her friends, the dim but sparky Marcie (Julie Benz) and reluctant clique member Julie (Rebecca Gayheart), have differing opinions on what happens next. Marcie stays loyal to Courtney, while Julie was closer to Liz than she was Courtney and Marcie. Alas! They’ve been caught out. Fern Mayo, the girl no-one wants near them at high school, sees the body and freaks out. Courtney puts the vamp into revamp and turns Fern into Vylette, the new popular girl at school. And then…
Well, go and buy the film if you want to see the rest.
In hindsight, the qualities I’d dismissed in Jawbreaker (the surface level similarity to Heathers) meant that I didn’t get to experience the brainy brilliance of this film. It has no real message, which it shouldn’t. Because it’s punk. It’s rampant vicious destructive teen fury wrapped up in an appealing garish package. Sweet on the surface, hard on the inside, like a Jawbreaker. What else did I fail to notice? The fashion in the movie takes you into a fashion-filled fantasy like every other teen movie, but unlike Molly Ringwald’s thrift store threads in her John Hughes films, Jawbreaker serves up incandescent PVC punk with lashings of drag boldness. What I didn’t realise at the time – and what I completely get now – is that Jawbreaker more John Waters than John Hughes.
No self-respecting teen movie should be without a good soundtrack. The Craft. Clueless. Pretty In Pink. They all need something. It’s the one thing Heathers lacks, actually. Jawbreaker, however, has the likes of The Donnas and Shampoo and of course Imperial Teen. Whoever curated the songs did so with the same attentiveness as the wardrobe supervisor with the clothes.
Jawbreaker is a lost classic. We need more teen movies with punk spirit like it. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it’s never too late to apologise. So here it is…I’M SORRY. I didn’t get it. Now I do. This is camp done right, kitsch done properly, and now I appreciate it.
Is this the best time to admit that I don’t like Mean Girls?