Have you ever played a prank that went horribly wrong? Well, I doubt it went nearly as wrong as the one Courtney (Rose McGowan), Julie (Rebecca Gayheart), and Marcie (Julie Benz) played on their best friend, Liz (Charlotte Ayanna).
Liz, Courtney, Julie, and Marcie are best friends and have been all of their lives. One of the staples of their friendship is a tradition of playing pranks on each other for their birthdays, so on Liz’s 18th birthday, her friends decide to go all out and stage a fake kidnapping. They enter Liz’s house masked, tie her up and put a terrified Liz in the trunk of Courtney’s car… right after Courtney puts a baseball-sized jawbreaker in Liz’s mouth and covers it with duct tape. The “gotcha” is supposed to be when the girls deliver Liz to their favourite diner for a big birthday breakfast but when they open the trunk of the car, the girls find an asphyxiated Liz with the jawbreaker lodged in her throat.
This is where the privileged lives of these young women take a wrong turn. They’re used to having youth, beauty, and wealth, but that hasn’t kept many women out of prison, and when Courtney convinces Julie and Marcie that the police will never understand that this was an accident, she effectively scares into going along with a cover-up.
An unforeseen loose string comes in the form of Fern Mayo (Judy Greer), a girl about as bland as her name. When Liz’s friends impersonate her mom and call her in sick, but are too busy trying to get away with murder to pick up her homework assignments, Ms. Sherwood (Carol Kane) recruits Fern to bring them to Liz’s house. Once there, poor Fern gets an earful and sees more than she should. Once Courtney manipulates her with the promise of beauty and popularity, however, Fern agrees to keep their secret.
Julie quickly realizes how deadly secrets can reveal a person’s true nature, as she witnesses Courtney carry on with absolutely no remorse for what she’s done, sweet Marcie become more conniving, and timid, invisible Fern become the school’s most popular girl, “Violet”.
Set to a backdrop of the very best of late 90s fashion and accompanied by a stellar soundtrack, this dark teen comedy is often compared to the 80s classic, Heathers, but is honestly more like Clueless, if Amber had been the social queen and bodies were dropping. The charm of the movie comes in when we realize that Courtney and Julie are probably the only people at their school with any brains, with Courtney having the added advantage of being a world-class manipulator. It’s truly a battle of wills as we watch the two pantomime a Cold War in the midst of Liz’s murder investigation, being lead by Detective Vera Cruz (Pam Grier).
Although Jawbreaker bombed in theatres, it became a cult classic, and I will never not believe that it inspired the book series and teen drama, Pretty Little Liars. Filled with snappy comebacks and memorable one liners, Jawbreaker doesn’t just display the devolution of frenemies (like Heathers) but the complete dismantling of friendships that had once been very real. In the most trying time of their lives, the first time they ever had any real problems, we see how fragile those friendships were, and how memories of Liz’s kindness give Julie the strength to do the right thing.
If we learned anything from Jawbreaker, it’s that even pranks have limits and there are several ways to cross the line. The joke stops being funny when folks stop breathing.
I give this one 4 stars.