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Tucson Weekly Political Parable

The hidden message in 'Jawbreaker:' Kill one for the Gipper!

By James DiGiovanna

MARCH 1, 1999:  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 clothes on.

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 to condemn.

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 left unerased.

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."


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