LOOKING AT THE roster of teen films populating the cineplexes
in the last few months, one would think we had all been transported
back to the mid-'80s. The most recent foray into this Clearasil-and-peach-fuzz
arena is Jawbreaker, which bests She's All That
and Varsity Blues in the extent to which it has been critically
reviled. Mike Clark, the reviewer for respected journalistic daily
USA Today, was appalled enough to dub it "this nastiness."
Critics usually hate a film for one of two reasons; 1) it actually
sucks, or 2) they feel obliged to condemn it on moral grounds.
Jawbreaker is getting it largely on point No. 2. While it's extremely
well-paced and entertaining, it's essentially pornography with
The story follows the fate of the bitchy fashion slaves who rule
Reagan High School by wearing their cleavage like a coordinated
accessory. In the opening sequence, the sweetest and most mythically
lovely of the coven of four popular girls, a goddess named Liz
Purr, and the only one who would give the time of day to those
less blessed by prettiness, is accidentally killed in a birthday
prank. Her decomposing body, a jawbreaker lodged in the throat,
becomes a problem for the surviving teen queens, who are responsible
for her untimely and nearly naked demise. Their leader, Courtney,
played by the extremely sleazy Rose McGowan, decides that their
best bet is to arrange Liz's corpse in a simulation of death-by-rough-sex.
A few ropes around the ankles, some torn panties, and everything
will be taken for a Chambers/Levin affair.
With this as the plot, and the endless shots of bouncing breasts
breaking free from tightly constraining, neon-colored slut-wear,
it's no wonder that this film is finding it so easy to offend
our innocent, fin-de-siècle sensibilities.
However, in spite of its MTV-style teen-porn format, Jawbreaker
may have some real depth. Unlike She's All That, its many
references to the '80s are not mere homage or window dressing.
Instead, it seems that Jawbreaker points backwards in order
The first clue is the soundtrack, which goes retro in reviving
several hits by the Scorpions, one of the worst of the '80s hair-metal
bands. Why the Scorpions? Well, they're German, and Germany was
the site of one of the defining moments of the '80s--see, Jawbreaker
takes place in Reagan High School, where style is substance and
murder is covered up with a TV-ready smile. No one epitomized
the '80s more than Ronald Reagan, not even Sean and Madonna. Reagan,
his hair "naturally" ebon even in his late 70s, could
actually go to the Bitburg cemetery, point to the graves full
of moldering Nazis, and say that they were victims of the war
just as much as those in the concentration camps.
Much of Jawbreaker mimics the era of Ron R: Like the Reagan
years, Jawbreaker is great-looking, ceaselessly entertaining
and appalling, and completely devoid of ethics.
The girls who run Reagan High School begin their power play by
finding an easily manipulated dupe, giving her a makeover, and
putting her in charge. Immediately, she's cast as the lead in
the school play. See, an actor who really doesn't know what's
going on is the putative head of the school.
As everything falls apart around them, the girls of Reagan High
adopt the motto "act like everything's OK." As Reagan
led the country into the biggest deficit in the history of civilization,
he went on TV to announce that we were better off than ever before.
Much of what the teens at Reagan High do involves trying to cover
up their criminal act. Their plan grows more and more Byzantine
until they are undone by an electronic recording that was accidentally
For those who missed it, Reagan's cabinet and controllers pulled
off an incredibly baroque scam involving illegal arms trading
and the funding of Central American terrorists, which was exposed
when computer files that were assumed to have been erased turned
out to still be resting on Colonel Oliver North's very hard drive.
There are a dozen other Reaganesque details in Jawbreaker,
but the most '80s thing about it is the way make-up and hair-dos
substitute for leadership and ethics, the way surface and depth
make a complete mismatch. Reagan is credited with being the first
of the "family values" Republicans to hold high office.
In fact, he was the first divorced man to be president, and his
daughter hated him and his wife so much that she wrote a best-selling
hatchet job about how horrible they were. He was the first president
to gain from the religious right, but rather than a Christian,
he was an avid follower of the occult art of astrology. He pandered
to the anti-gay bigots who've made the Republicans the party of
hate, but employed openly gay people on his and his wife's staff.
How did he do this? Great makeup and hair. He just went on TV
and looked the part of president. A little rouge on his cheeks,
a little shoe polish in his hair, and he could convince everyone
that everything was going to be OK.
In Jawbreaker, the morning of the murder, the girls go
into the bathroom at Reagan High School and ask, "How do
we deal with this?"
Their answer: "Makeup."