Jawbreaker (film)

Jawbreaker is a 1999 American teen black comedy crime film directed and written 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, the use of bright pastels, and the ostensibly accidental killing of one of its members.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byDarren Stein
Written byDarren Stein
Produced by
  • Lisa Tornell
  • Stacy Kramer
CinematographyAmy Vincent
Edited byTroy T. Takaki
Music byStephen Endelman
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release dates
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, Heathers 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 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, 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 corpse 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 total makeover. Courtney introduces Fern to the high school as a completely different person, the attractive new student "Vylette". Julie, overwhelmed with guilt at her part in Liz's death, breaks away from the clique, reviled by Courtney and Marcie. As her popularity dissolves, Julie finds solace with drama student Zack and they eventually form a romantic relationship.

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. Handling the investigation on Liz's mysterious death is Detective Cruz. Courtney approaches the detective and spins a web of lies, "revealing" that Liz used to secretly bring older men into her bedroom to have sex with them, eventually being raped and murdered by one. Upon learning this information from Cruz, Julie surmises that it was Courtney who, at the night of the murder, seduced a stranger at a sleazy bar and had sex with him in Liz's bed in order to frame him for the crime.

Meanwhile, 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 photocopies of Fern Mayo all over the school with the message, "Who is Vylette?" written on them, exposing Vylette's true identity and humiliating her in front of all the students. Julie and Zack take pity on Fern and both girls make amends with each other.

Remorseless for the lives she has destroyed, Courtney attends the senior prom with 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: "I KILLED LIZ! I KILLED THE TEEN DREAM! DEAL WITH IT!" 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 with the greeting card and broadcasts Courtney's confession over the sound system. Shocked and disgusted, Dane abandons Courtney while Marcie hides under a table. Horrified that her crime has been exposed, Courtney races for the exit as the rest of the furious students pelt her with corsages, call her names, and use profanity. Julie snaps a picture of the now disgraced Courtney to immortalize the occasion.



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 at the time of release was overwhelmingly negative. Many critics pointed out the film's similarities to the 1988 cult-classic Heathers and accused Jawbreaker of plagiarism. On Metacritic the film has a score of 22% based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[6] On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 14% based on 64 reviews, with an average of 3.6 out of 10. The website's consensus states: "This throwaway comedy falls victim to its hip sensibilities."[7] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave Jawbreaker a grade D+[8]

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".[9] Francesca Dinglasan from Boxoffice magazine gave the film one and a half out of five, criticizing the film's humor and similarities to Heathers.[10]

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.[11]

McGowan was nominated for the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain, but lost to Matt Dillon for his role as Pat Healy There's Something About Mary.[12]


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.[13]

McGowan's Courtney Shayne has become something of a pop culture icon on social media,[14] 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."

Jawbreaker's costumes have also been celebrated,[15] drawing praise from the likes of Vogue[16] and Rookie magazines.[17] 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][18]

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."[19]


  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[20] and had public readings, but failed to make it to major production or have a publicized stage run despite Stein's efforts.[21]

Television seriesEdit

It was announced in February 2017 that the film would be reimagined as a television series for E! Darren Stein, the writer and director of the original film, was said to write and produce the series,[22][23] but no further developments were made.


  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 (October 18, 2013). "'Mean Girls', 'Heathers', 'Jawbreaker', Heading to New York Theater". Variety. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Sunderland, Mitchell (August 14, 2016). "'Perverting the Youth of America': The Oral History of Teen Classic 'Jawbreaker'". Broadly. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  5. ^ Imperial Teen Yoo Hoo Music Video. YouTube.com. February 5, 2011. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  6. ^ "Jawbreaker". Metacritic. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  7. ^ "Jawbreaker". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 20, 2022.
  8. ^ JAWBREAKER (1999) Archived 2018-12-20 at the Wayback Machine CinemaScore
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 19, 1999). "Jawbreaker". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  10. ^ Dinglasan, Francesca (August 1, 2008). "Jawbreaker". Boxoffice magazine. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  11. ^ Berardinelli, James (February 19, 1999). "Jawbreaker". Reelviews.net. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  12. ^ "1999 MTV Movie Awards Coverage". DigitalHit.com. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  13. ^ Taylor, Trey (2014). "Rose McGowan and Darren Stein on Jawbreaker". Dazed. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  14. ^ Peitzman, Louis (September 11, 2013). "25 Reasons to Worship Courtney Shayne from "Jawbreaker"". BuzzFeed. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  15. ^ Isabella, Laura (July 6, 2014). "Top Ten 1990s Teen Movie Outfits". hungertv.com. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  16. ^ Satenstein, Liana (February 16, 2017). "Jawbreaker Is Coming Back as a TV Series! Here Are the Film's Best Fashion Moments". Vogue. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  17. ^ Lodi, Marie (September 11, 2013). "Role Models Power Suits: High School Edition". Rookie Magazine. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  18. ^ Lambe, Stacy (January 14, 2014). "Exclusive: The G.B.F. Cast Recreate Jawbreaker's Famous Slow-Mo Walk". Vh1.com. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  19. ^ Weiselman, Jarett (April 23, 2014). "How Judy Greer Became Hollywood's Most In-Demand Best Friend". BuzzFeed.
  20. ^ Gans, Andrew (September 26, 2013). "Readings of Jawbreaker: The Musical, with Diana DeGarmo, Kate Flannery, Elizabeth Gillies, Presented Sept. 26-27". Playbill. Archived from the original on September 23, 2016. Retrieved September 21, 2016.
  21. ^ Reid, Joe (October 2, 2013). "Interview: Darren Stein Talks 'G.B.F.' Distribution and a 'Jawbreaker' Musical". TribecaFilm.com. Retrieved October 3, 2022.
  22. ^ Petski, Denise (February 15, 2017). "'Jawbreaker': E! Developing Series Adaptation of Teen Cult Film". Deadline. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  23. ^ "'Jawbreaker' TV Series in the Works at E!". The Hollywood Reporter. February 15, 2017. Retrieved May 22, 2017.

External linksEdit