A warmed-over serving of coldblooded teen queens

How 'Jawbreaker' (1999) stacks up to 'Heathers' (1988) in the nasty-teen film oeuvre.

February 28, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,Sun Staff

Armed with Scrunchies, Swatches and maximum- strength egos, the demonic divas of Westerburg High ruled the school in the 1988 teen suicide satire "Heathers."

Now, a band of more overtly vampy but no less nasty coeds reigns over Reagan High, in Jackie O sunglasses and platform shoes, in "Jawbreaker."

And critics and audiences alike are noticing that the two films tread very similar high-school-as-hell ground.

Although the plots are not identical, both are dark parodies of high school politics and homicide that spotlight a fanged coven of stylish she-devils.

In "Heathers," Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), an intellectual, unenthusiastic member of the most popular clique in school, tires of Westerburg's cruel social hierarchy. She wishes for the death of her aerobicized Dr. Frankenstein, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), but would never actually kill her. That is, until she gets wrapped up with loose cannon outcast J.D. (Christian Slater). Together, they embark on a murder spree of the school's most obnoxious icons and disguise them as suicides.

In the much more obvious "Jawbreaker," the privileged teen sirens accidentally murder fellow cliquester Elizabeth Purr (Charlotte Roldan), the "teen dream." Cause of death: a birthday prank involving shoving a jawbreaker down her throat. Resident evil chick Courtney Shane (Rose McGowan) attempts to cover up the crime.

Here's how the two movies compare on their shared cliches:

BODY COUNT: "Heathers": 3 (murders disguised as suicides). "Jawbreaker": 1 (jawbreaker asphyxiation)

THE MEAN QUEEN: Heather Chandler, the head Heather, is pretty darn hostile. But her snarkiest antics consist of humiliating geeks and spewing venomous threats. On the other hand, in "Jawbreaker," Courtney offs her best friend and the evidence. With her bug eyes, blood-red lips, stark white skin, raven hair and confrontational cleavage, she's almost as scary-looking as her real-life boyfriend, shock rocker Marilyn Manson.

THE FOLLOWER: In "Heathers," it could either be the leggy, impressionable Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk) or the shallow but ambitious Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty). In "Jawbreaker," it's the ditzy dish, Marcie Fox (Julie Benz).

THE CYNIC: "Heathers" has the subversive, resourceful Veronica. "Jawbreaker" has the considerably less edgy Julie Freeman (Rebecca Gayheart), whose eyes are opened to her vapid life and Courtney's wickedness after Elizabeth dies.

DROP-DEAD DIALOGUE: The cleverest lines in "Jawbreaker" come in the first five minutes and are: "The Princess Di of Reagan High" and "Satan in heels." "Heathers" is rife with sardonic, literate jabs from start to finish, such as "I love my dead gay son," "It's not just a spoke in my menstrual cycle," and "Swatchdogs and Diet Cokeheads."

TEEN ANGST LITERARY REFERENCES: Every teen movie aspiring to critical kudos needs a Cliffs Notes classic to underline the action. In "Heathers," the weighty good-against-evil plot of "Moby Dick" was the perfect backdrop for Veronica's struggle. "Jawbreaker" briefly alludes to "Macbeth," theoretically casting the guilty babes as accidental Lady Macbeths, but it's just intellectual posing.

JOCK JERKS: Dane (Ethan Erickson), the yawn of a hunk in "Jawbreaker," did little more than feed Courtney's appetite for "kink" and get crowned Prom King. He can't touch Kurt (Lance Fenton) and Ram (Patrick Laborteaux), the cow-tipping chauvinists of "Heathers." Their sex and sports fixation is milked for all it's worth before they die in a supposed "repressed homosexual suicide pact."

DARK HORSE: Christian Slater's career-long Jack Nicholson impersonation worked black magic in "Heathers." He scored big as J.D., a sexy psychotic who seduces Veronica and enjoys strip croquet, explosives and exercises in creative suicide-note writing. The alternative sensitive drama guy in "Jawbreaker" is some tepid Ethan Hawke look-alike whose name isn't worth remembering.

GEEK ALERT: The stoners, losers and deluded nobodies of "Heathers" are cartoonish foils brought to life with offbeat camera angles, sad-sack stutters and freaky dialogue. A couple of them are even heartbreakingly real. Their torment consists of being teased, ignored and/or occasionally beaten up. "Jawbreaker" portrays these pathetic high school cinema staples, particularly the Goths and the troupe of drama dorks, with disturbing aggression. "Jawbreakers' " uncool crew is frequently debased with homophobic insults that are more tasteless and offensive than campy and clever.

Pub Date: 02/28/99

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