Saturday, August 02, 2008

Review: "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane"

I'm not quite sure how I feel about Jonathan Levine's directorial debut All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (which, ironically, is being released in the United States after his much ballyhooed, and ultimately weaker, sophomore effort, The Wackness).

I like the film a lot. I think it's the best film of its genre since the original Scream, and I think it introduces Levine as a stylish, exciting new talent.

But I had quite a few problems with the film, especially with some character choices in the end that either didn't make sense or quite ring true, that have been hindering me from expressing outright love for the film.

Up until that point however, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a smart, grimly effective slasher film that centers around a beautiful teenage girl named Mandy Lane, who is the object of desire for nearly every boy in her high school. When Mandy is invited to a weekend getaway with a group of classmates at one of the boys' parents' ranch, Mandy discovers just how deep that desire for her runs, as not only do all three boys make it their personal goal to be the one to sleep with her, but an obsessed former friend is picking off the others one by one in a crazed effort to eliminate the competition for her time and affection and win her back.

It's not exactly a wholly original concept, but Levine handles the material so well, creating a smartly crafted thrill machine that doesn't treat its characters like cardboard cut-outs. This is what the insipid Prom Night should have been but never was. It's a teen horror flick with the aesthetic sensibilities of an indie film. There is a complexity to these characters that is hardly ever seen in films of this genre. You have your usual stock characters of course - the cocky horny guy, the dorky horny guy, the jerk...but then you have the queen bee uber-bitch who is actually hugely insecure (shades of American Beauty), and uses her abrasive, condescending personality to hide the gaping holes in her life.

And then of course, there's the enigmatic Mandy Lane an unattainable mystery, the high school boys' holy grail, who in the end is just as enigmatic as when we first met her. This is by design of course - the filmmakers do very little to illuminate what makes her tick, and she ultimately attains some of that mystique that is so fascinating to all the boys who love her.

But therein lies part of the problem. *MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD* Mandy remains so enigmatic that the choices she makes in the end don't quite make sense. They do at first, but All the Boys Love Mandy Lane doesn't just have one twist ending (the first one is a doozy), but two (the second...well...not quite so much). Characters start making decisions based on knowledge they couldn't possibly have, and behaving way more calmly than you would expect high schoolers to act in a sudden deadly situation ("We're going to get out of this" one calmly says to another, right after the first body they see hits the floor). It's the result of weak writing, a small slip up in the grand scheme, but one that was glaring enough to lift me out of the moment.

My real issue though, is with the character of Mandy Lane, whose ultimate choice in the end just doesn't quite make sense. It's open to interpretation of course, and I've read several possible explanations, but none seem to ring true. I have an basic idea as to what the filmmakers were getting at here, but I found the road they took to get to it a little hard to swallow. The first twist makes sense, it feels right, but when the movie tries to turn things around again, it looses a little in the transition. *END SPOILERS*

Despite my issues with pieces of it, I found the ending to be hugely satisfying, and the use of Bobby Vinton's "Sealed with a Kiss" is absolutely perfect. It feels like it came directly from the 70s, taking on the feel of an old grindhouse exploitation film, perfectly summing up the film's gritty beauty, without following the typical genre route. There is some ambiguity about the film's release date from Senator U.S. and Occupant Pictures. Box Office Mojo doesn't have a release date listed, and IMDB merely has August '08 listed. It was made in 2006, so I hope it finds the audience it deserves here soon. With so many similar, inferior films clogging up the multiplexes, it truly is sad to see a quality slasher get lost in the mix. Everybody deserves a chance to love Mandy Lane.

GRADE - *** (out of four)

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE; Directed by Jonathan Levine; Stars Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able, Michael Welch, Edwin Hodge, Aaron Himelstein, Luke Grimes; Rated R for strong disturbing violence, pervasive drug and alcohol use, sexuality/nudity and language - all involving teens

1 comment:

nick plowman said...

Fantastic review, so glad you got to see this, I enjoyed it very much. I too had problems with certain parts and scenes, as I do with most movies, and I can actually say that I cannot get it out of my head. I also don't want to use the word love but I enjoyed it immensely, and I want to see it again soon.