Jawbreaker (film)

Jawbreaker is a 1999 American black comedy film written and directed by Darren Stein. The film stars Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, and Julie Benz as girls in an exclusive clique in their high school. Charlotte Ayanna has a non-speaking cameo role as the murdered fourth member of the group. The film was inspired by the 1988 film Heathers, and is often compared to it, particularly the plot involving a popular female clique, and the ostensibly accidental killing of one of its members.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byDarren Stein
Produced by
  • Lisa Tornell
  • Stacy Kramer
Written byDarren Stein
Music byStephen Endelman
CinematographyAmy Vincent
Edited byTroy T. Takaki
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million
Box office$3.1 million[1]

Of his concept for the film, Stein has stated, "The jawbreaker just came to represent the duality of the poppy sweetness of the girls, of high school and of youth, versus the whole idea that this thing could break your jaw".[2] The film was released on February 19, 1999, and was a critical and financial failure, although it has come to gain a cult following. Similarities have been drawn between Jawbreaker and the 2004 film Mean Girls.[3]


On the morning of her 17th birthday, high-school senior Liz Purr, the most popular girl in Reagan High, is kidnapped in her bed by three masked assailants, one of whom stuffs a jawbreaker into her mouth as a gag before she is placed in the trunk of a car. The kidnappers turn out to be Liz's "friends"—Courtney, Marcie, and Julie—playing a cruel prank on her for her birthday, which they do annually. When the girls drive up to a diner to treat Liz to breakfast, they open the trunk and discover she is dead, having choked to death on the jawbreaker Courtney had used to gag her.

Julie wants to go to the police, but Courtney forbids her. Courtney calls the school pretending to be Liz's mother and tells them Liz is ill and cannot attend school, then the three go to school as though nothing had happened. Fern Mayo, school outcast and fervent admirer of Liz Purr (whom she calls "The Cat's Meow"), is sent by the school principal, Miss Sherwood, to deliver Liz's homework at the end of the day. She stumbles upon the three girls at Liz's house trying to arrange her body in bed. Courtney tries to fabricate a story that Liz died at the hands of a rapist.

Fern attempts to flee the house, but the girls catch her and Courtney buys her silence by accepting her into the clique, telling her to take Liz's place, despite Julie's protests. Courtney and Marcie give Fern a makeover, transforming her from plain and awkward to elegant and beautiful. The transformation is so complete, Courtney introduces Fern as the beautiful exchange student "Vylette".

Julie, overwhelmed by guilt at her part in Liz's death, breaks away from the clique, only to be reviled by Courtney and Marcie. As her popularity dissolves, she becomes a new target for abuse and contempt throughout the school. Her only real friend during this time is her boyfriend, a drama student named Zack.

As Vylette's popularity soars, Julie watches in silence as Courtney spins an endless web of lies to cover up the murder and maintain her popularity. Julie threatens to go to the police and tell the truth, but Courtney retorts that she, Marcie, and now Vylette will claim Julie killed Liz if she attempts to expose them. To her disgust, Julie learns that, after they had returned Liz's corpse to her house, Courtney went out that same night and seduced a stranger at a sleazy bar and had sex with him in Liz's bed in order to frame him for the murder.

Vylette becomes intoxicated with her new-found popularity, which has eclipsed Courtney's own. Courtney orders Vylette to learn her place, but Vylette vows that if Courtney does not watch her step, then she will reveal the truth behind Liz's death. In response, Courtney and Marcie post enlarged yearbook photos of Fern Mayo all over the school with the message "Who is Vylette" written on them, revealing Vylette's true identity and leaving her humiliated by the entire school. Julie takes pity on Fern and forgives her for being corrupted by Courtney.

Feeling no remorse for the lives she has destroyed, Courtney attends the senior prom with Liz's boyfriend, jock Dane Sanders. Meanwhile, Julie is at home going through a bag of Liz's belongings that were given to her. She finds a recordable greeting card she was fiddling with when Courtney was faking Liz's death scene, on which Courtney's admission to the killing was inadvertently recorded. Armed with this evidence, Julie, Fern, and Zack hurry to the prom.

When Dane and Courtney are announced as Prom King and Queen, Zack sneaks backstage and broadcasts the card's message saying "I killed Liz. I killed the teen dream. Deal with it!" over the sound system. Shocked and disgusted, Dane quickly abandons Courtney while Marcie hides under a table. Horrified that her scheme has unraveled and exposed, Courtney races for the exit as the rest of the furious students pelt her with corsages and other projectiles, call her a murderer, saying 'We hate you', 'You're gonna burn in hell', 'How could you?' and 'Why?' and make use of profanity. Julie snaps a picture of a devastated Courtney to immortalize the occasion. The yearbook closes with Fern's quote to Detective Vera Cruz, "This is high school, Detective Cruz. What is a friend, anyway?"



Director Darren Stein brought his script to executives at Columbia Tri-Star, who agreed to finance the film if he could cast either Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet or Rose McGowan.[4] The role of Julie originally went to Rachael Leigh Cook, who was eventually replaced with Rebecca Gayheart because the producers felt she did not have the right chemistry with the two other actresses.[4] Gayheart had auditioned for the roles of Fern and Marcie before she was selected for Julie. Marilyn Manson, who was then dating McGowan, agreed to appear in a non-speaking cameo role.

On a small budget of $3.5 million, Jawbreaker was filmed at locations in and around the Los Angeles area. 'Reagan High School' was actually University High School in West Los Angeles, with the cafeteria scenes filmed at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.[4] The diner that the girls drive up to at the beginning of the film is Johnie's Broiler in Downey, California, the filming site for many film and television productions. McGowan based her performance on that of Gene Tierney's sociopathic character in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).[4]

The distinctive costumes were designed by Vikki Barrett, who drew on 1980s and 1950s-era fashion trends blended with fetishistic elements like lycra skirts, all in bright, candy-like colors to evoke the jawbreaker.[4]

Before the film could be released, the MPAA objected to a graphic sex-scene between McGowan's and Marilyn Manson's characters, which had to be cut down to give the film an R rating instead of an NC-17.[4] To accompany the release of the film, Imperial Teen's music video for the song "Yoo Hoo" featured McGowan as Courtney Shayne harassing the band members with jawbreakers.[5]


Critical response was overwhelmingly negative. Many pointed out and criticised the heavy plagiarism from the cult-classic Heathers. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 11% based on 62 reviews, with an average 3.4 out of 10. The website's consensus states: "This throwaway comedy falls victim to its hip sensibilities.", leading to its inclusion on several of the websites lists ranking the worst films,[citation needed] earning the distinction of being the single worst film of 1999,[citation needed] as well as ranking among the top-ten worst films of the 1990s.[6] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave Jawbreaker a grade D+[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half out of four, stating "The movie is a slick production of a lame script ... If anyone in the plot had the slightest intelligence, the story would implode".[8] Francesca Dinglasan from Boxoffice magazine gave the film one and a half out of five, criticizing the film's humor and similarities to Heathers.[9]

James Berardinelli gave the film a more favorable two and a half out of four, calling it "palatable, and occasionally even clever", but concluding, "while the film offers more than a Heathers rehash, it never fully develops its own identity.[10]

McGowan was nominated for the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain, but lost to Matt Dillon and Stephen Dorff for their roles as Pat Healy and Deacon Frost in There's Something About Mary and Blade.[citation needed]


Despite the negative critical feedback, Jawbreaker found success through home video release and subsequent television airings; it has developed a cult following. Vice magazine called the film a "teen classic" when it published a retrospective in 2016 titled "Perverting the Youth of America: The Oral History of Teen Classic Jawbreaker".[4] Dazed magazine published a similar feature, crediting the film with inspiring 2004's Mean Girls, and praising the dark tones and performances.[11]

McGowan's Courtney Shayne has become something of a pop culture icon on social media,[12] with TribecaFilm.com declaring of McGowan's performance that "...every single line-reading was a thing of Bette Davis-aspiring beauty, and with any justice, it's a performance that will only grow in esteem over time."[13] The film and characters also enjoy a following in the LGBT community.[14] In 2016 it was screened at RuPaul's DragCon, an LGBT-centered fan convention, which was followed by a Q&A with Darren Stein and Rebecca Gayheart.[15]

Jawbreaker's costumes have also been celebrated,[16] drawing praise from the likes of Vogue[17] and Rookie magazines.[18] The scene where the actresses strut down the hallway in slow-motion to Imperial Teen's "Yoo Hoo" has become a signature feature of the film, drawing homage in film and television, most notably Mean Girls, and being parodied in films like Not Another Teen Movie (2001).[4][19]

In 2014, Judy Greer said in an interview: "I really didn't think it was anything special while we were shooting it, but when I saw the final product, I knew it was really good. I was so proud of it. I thought it looked beautiful. It had just the right amount of sexy, pop culture fun to it. I do think it's quite special."[20]


  1. "Yoo Hoo" (Imperial Teen) – 3:31
  2. "I See" (Letters To Cleo) – 3:56
  3. "Next to You" (Ednaswap) – 2:35
  4. "Don't Call Me Babe" (Shampoo) – 2:58
  5. "Bad Word for a Good Thing" (Friggs) – 2:53
  6. "Stay in Bed" (Grand Mal) – 4:49
  7. "Flow" (Transister) – 5:59
  8. "She Bop" (Howie Beno) – 3:06
  9. "Water Boy" (Imperial Teen) – 1:36
  10. "Rock You Like a Hurricane" (Scorpions) – 4:14
  11. "Rock 'n' Roll Machine" (The Donnas) – 2:54
  12. "Beat You Up" (The Prissteens) – 2:36
  13. "Trouble" (Shampoo) – 3:21
Songs not included on the soundtrack

Musical adaptationEdit

In 2013, a musical adaptation of Jawbreaker was made starring Elizabeth Gillies as Courtney Shayne.[21]

Television seriesEdit

It was announced in February 2017 that the film will be reimagined as a television series for E! Darren Stein, the writer and director of the original film, will write and produce the series. The project is currently in its development stage.[22][23]


  1. ^ "Jawbreaker". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  2. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 19, 1999). "'Jawbreaker': Teen Queens of Mean". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  3. ^ Gordon Cox (2013-10-18). "'Mean Girls', 'Heathers', 'Jawbreaker', Heading to New York Theater". Variety. Retrieved 2017-04-28.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Mitchell Sunderland (2016-08-14). "'Perverting the Youth of America': The Oral History of Teen Classic 'Jawbreaker'". Broadly. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  5. ^ Imperial Teen Yoo Hoo Music Video. YouTube.com. 2011-02-05. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
  6. ^ "Jawbreaker". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  7. ^ JAWBREAKER (1999) Archived 2018-12-20 at the Wayback Machine CinemaScore
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 19, 1999). "Jawbreaker". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  9. ^ Dinglasan, Francesca (August 1, 2008). "Jawbreaker". Boxoffice magazine. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  10. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Jawbreaker". Reelviews.net. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  11. ^ Trey Taylor (2014). "Rose McGowan and Darren Stein on Jawbreaker". Dazed. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  12. ^ Louis Peitzman (2013-09-11). "25 Reasons to Worship Courtney Shayne from "Jawbreaker"". Buzzfeed. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  13. ^ Joe Reid (2013-03-31). "5 Reasons You Should Watch 'Jawbreaker' for April Fool's Day". Tribecafilm.com. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  14. ^ Brandon Voss (2011-08-11). "The A-List Interview: Rose McGowan". The Advocate. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  15. ^ Blake Jacobs (2016-04-27). "9 Days to RuPaul's DragCon". worldofwonder.net. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  16. ^ Laura Isabella (2014-07-06). "Top Ten 1990s Teen Movie Outfits". hungertv.com. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  17. ^ Liana Satenstein (2017-02-16). "Jawbreaker Is Coming Back as a TV Series! Here Are the Film's Best Fashion Moments". Vogue Magazine. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  18. ^ Marie Lodi (2013-09-11). "Role Models Power Suits: High School Edition". Rookie Magazine. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  19. ^ Lambe, Stacy (2014-01-14). "Exclusive: The G.B.F. Cast Recreate Jawbreaker's Famous Slow-Mo Walk". Vh1.com. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  20. ^ https://www.buzzfeed.com/jarettwieselman/how-judy-greer-became-hollywoods-most-in-demand-best-friend
  21. ^ Gans, A. (September 26, 2013). "MadBromance Productions hosts a 29-hour reading of Jawbreaker: The Musical, based on the 1999 film "Jawbreaker," Sept. 26–27 at 3 PM in Manhattan". Retrieved September 21, 2016.
  22. ^ Petski, Denise (2017-02-15). "'Jawbreaker': E! Developing Series Adaptation of Teen Cult Film". Deadline. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  23. ^ "'Jawbreaker' TV Series in the Works at E!". The Hollywood Reporter. 2017-02-15. Retrieved 2017-05-22.

External linksEdit