Yet another black comedy that misunderstands and misrepresents the genre— call them Very Bad Jawbreakers— Kevin Williamson’s first (pre-Scream) script, also his first attempt at directing, is a take-that-you-bitch fantasy told from the point of view of an insecure, overachieving teen. Or, more precisely, a thirtysomething Hollywood hack trapped in the body of an insecure, overachieving teen. Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek star, Katie Holmes, plays Leigh Ann, a valedictorian-in-
waiting who needs only an A on her history final to win a full college scholarship. The alternative, it’s repeatedly emphasized, is a fate worse than death: small-town purgatory and an existence destined to parallel that of her down-and-out waitress mother (a bizarrely maudlin Lesley Anne Warren). The only obstacle to Leigh Ann’s escape: her evil history teacher, Mrs.
Tingle (Helen Mirren).
When Leigh Ann is caught with a crib sheet—
actually procured by her ditzy best friend, Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan), and their mutual lust object, Luke (Barry Watson)— the trio traipse off to the Tingle mansion to negotiate with the harridan (for some reason, they bring a crossbow with them). A scuffle leaves Mrs. Tingle unconscious, and the teens’ idea of damage control involves tying the witch to her four-poster bed and posing her for naughty, blackmail-worthy pictures. Williamson hallmarks are present in their crudest form: contrived moral dilemmas, a bland yet distracting tie-in soundtrack, dialogue that vacillates between self-satisfied one-liners and bouts of logorrhea. One running joke concerns Leigh Ann’s feeble, post-Alanis grasp of the concept of irony (the nitpicky Mrs. Tingle takes pleasure in correcting her, time and again). Teaching Mrs. Tingle is too lazy to function as more than a morality tale (Leigh Ann’s third-act conscience attack is excruciating to watch), and yet so self-conscious that it can’t help reverting to amoral poses. This schizoid stance, Mrs. Tingle would probably agree, is the only real irony here.
A Dimension release. Directed by Kevin Williamson. Now playing.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 31, 1999