As regular readers know all too well, I love a birthday review here at the vault! On this day, Julie Benz entered this world, a cadre of memorable roles awaiting her to come of age. Darla of Buffy and Angel and Rita Bennett of Dexter are just a couple from the ever-growing list of indelible Benz characters. My first cinematic memory of her is as the receptionist opposite Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. While just a bit part, it wasn’t long until she snagged her first major supporting role as Marcie “Foxy” Fox in the 1999 film, Jawbreaker.
Three of Reagan High School’s Flawless Four, Julie (Rebecca Gayheart), Marcie (Julie Benz) and Courtney (Rose McGowan), prank the fourth, Liz Purr (Charlotte Ayanna), on her seventeenth birthday by abducting her from her bed. All’s going great until they discover Liz has choked on the jawbreaker they stuffed in her mouth. Fearful of the consequences, the trio stage a sordid scenario to hide their involvement, but the dowdy school nerd, Fern Mayo (Judy Greer), overhears. To keep her quiet, Courtney wagers Liz’s spot in the group for Fern’s silence. Courtney seems unstoppable, but Julie’s guilt and the ego of the new and improved Fern, a.k.a. Vylette, threaten to unravel her perfect cover-up.
Written and directed by Darren Stein, Jawbreaker is a black comedy whose genius is in the broad strokes more so than the details. Our new millennium television culture of Bones, NCIS‘s and the dozens of CSI‘s teaches us that Courtney’s clever cover-up would never have actually worked, but the point isn’t unraveling the mystery, it’s giving the Queen Bitch her just desserts much like its similar predecessors Heathers or Carrie.
Though I haven’t seen those movies in ages, I recall enough to know they are superior films. Jawbreaker has some inventive visual moments, but also suffers from awkward scene placement. For example, the montage blending Fern’s transformation into Vylette with Liz’s autopsy and funeral preparation is effective and disturbing, but it’s followed by Liz’s parents finding her body; an event which should happen before the autopsy, or maybe all those detective serials have taught me wrong.
Speaking of Liz’s parents, I love that Carrie alum P.J. Soles and William Katt portray them, but it’s disappointing they get less than a minute of screen time. Jawbreaker also features minor supporting roles by Jeff Conaway as Marcie’s dad, Carol Kane as the principal, Ms. Sherwood, Pam Grier as Detective Vera Cruz, and Rose McGowan’s then-fiance, Marilyn Manson, as the pedo ‘stache sportin’ Stranger. These all take a back stage to the Flawless Four redux.
Rose McGowan’s Courtney is vulgar and callous and her bitchy attitude really does make you root for her to get what’s coming to her. Rose’s affectations are tiresome, but luckily Julie Benz’s great reactions, Rebecca Gayheart’s grieving, and Judy Greer’s unbridled rise to high school stardom distract from the weaker scenes.
Jawbreaker does have the distinction of not only showcasing Julie Benz, but it is the movie which introduced me to Judy Greer. For those with a penchant for the darker subject matter, it’s an entertaining premise that, had it been more disciplined and not so littered with incomplete subplots, could’ve ruled the 90s high school genre.