Saturday, January 12, 2008

Twisted Teen Movies

Mean Girls (2004)

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Jawbreaker (1999)

Okay, so maybe ‘twisted’ is a stretch – these movies might just as well be set apart from the bulk of teen-girl flicks by more mundane descriptors like ‘smart’ or ‘interesting’. But I would argue that what makes these three movies special is their use of dark humour – particularly the latter two. So for the sake of melodrama we’ll stick with ‘twisted’.

Mean Girls derives its popularity in large part from its scarily accurate depiction of the North American high school experience. Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron, a sixteen year-old who has been home-schooled in Africa for her whole life, is in perfect position to observe what many of us have accepted for so long that we have ceased to notice it, and both script and set are full of small truths that are instantly recognizable but somehow still revelatory. Cynical sidekick Janis’ running tour of the school world (‘the art freaks… the cool Asians…’ etc) is dead on.

This realism is the background for a story that rapidly leaves the typical ‘new girl in school’ narrative behind as Cady attempts to infiltrate ‘the Plastics’ – a trio of the most popular girls in school. The resulting imbalance created in ‘Girl World’ throws the school into chaos, and leaves Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey and Tim Meadows plenty of room for hilarious roles as the teachers who attempt to restore order. The whole film is smart, funny, and well-timed – though for those of us who have recently experienced teenage girlhood in a public high school, the inevitable happy ending may be a bit hard to swallow.

I’ve never been in a teen beauty contest, so I can’t comment on the realism of the setting for Drop Dead Gorgeous. But as in Mean Girls, the plot quickly departs from the expected and moves into the surreal. The story follows a film crew as they attempt to create a documentary about a small-town beauty contest. Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) is up against Rebecca Ann Leeman (Denise Richards), and it’s a battle of trailer park versus teen royalty. But things get messy when contestants start dying off…

The movie takes some good shots at the world of the beauty contest, and Kirstie Alley is memorable as Rebecca Ann’s mother, a contest enthusiast and former winner herself. It’s funny, with plenty of dark laughs and shocking moments, but where Mean Girls was often surprisingly subtle Drop Dead Gorgeous opts for a louder, more absurd brand of humour. The Mean Girls approach is a safer one, with a broader appeal – but if ‘safe’ isn’t your thing you may really enjoy Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Moving further over on the spectrum from fluffy to twisted, we have Jawbreaker. The premise is simple: three friends stage a fake kidnapping of a fourth girl in order to surprise her on her seventeenth birthday. But she chokes to death on the hard candy stuffed into her mouth to gag her, and the girls are left with a choice between cover-up or confession. Nice-girl Julie wants to go to the police, while uber-scary Courtney will do anything to avoid risking her reputation.

The plot takes a number of turns as Detective Vera Cruz (Pam Grier – Jackie Brown) follows the girls’ trail. Rose McGowan is perfect as Courtney, and Rebecca Gayheart offers a perfectly adequate portrait of a nice girl trying to do right. There are far fewer laugh-out-loud moments than in Mean Girls or Drop Dead Gorgeous, but the movie is darkly compelling – at times I was left with the feeling that this was the sort of thing that could actually happen. Like Mean Girls, it offers a window into the nature of teenage girlhood; only in Jawbreaker it’s a picture of what could be, rather than what is. The ending avoids any cutesiness and is possibly the most satisfying of the three.

All three of these movies make great solo viewing. Jawbreaker may be a bit heavy for a group ‘girls night in’ sort of scenario and requires a certain degree of attention to follow the plot, while I’d recommend Mean Girls in particular for introduction to a male audience – it’s one of those ones that guys are often surprised to enjoy. If I had to watch one with my mother, I’d choose Mean Girls or Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Chick Flick Connections:

A number of the same people seem to come up again and again in the world of chick flicks – whether as stars or one-liners.

These three movies feature a number of career specialists in the genre – Lindsay Lohan was quite recently the hottest new thing, Brittany Murphy (who appears in a minor role in Drop Dead Gorgeous) has a chick flick pedigree stretching back to Clueless, and Kirsten Dunst is a giant in the girlie movie industry, starring in Elizabethtown, Wimbledon, Mona Lisa Smile, Crazy/Beautiful, Bring It On, Dick, The Virgin Suicides, Strike!, and Little Women. You may not have recognized 'Claudia' from Party of Five under all the fake tan Lacey Chabert donned to play Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls, while Rebecca Gayheart played Toni on 90210 before she made Jawbreaker. Also spot “Ms Perky” (from Ten Things I Hate About You) in Drop Dead Gorgeous and 'Ashley Banks' of Fresh Prince fame in Jawbreaker.

No comments: