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Entries in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane [2006] (1)

Friday
Oct112013

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

The Virgin, Sprung

Allow me to kick things off with a confession and a question. First, it's time to come clean, in the form of a history lesson:

Four years ago, I saw a bootleg copy of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. I was not yet a film critic, and so the idea of watching pirated material didn't give me gooseflesh like it does today. The movie had a famously troubled release: following a bidding war at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, the Weinstein Company sold U.S. distribution rights to another company that folded amidst the 2008 economic downturn.

Mandy Lane floated in limbo before getting picked up by a hedge fund--which also dissolved. Eventually, one of the film's producers bought back the rights and found a home for his movie at the Weinsteins' newly formed RADiUS-TWC, an outfit specializing in multi-platform feature releases (theatres, VOD, Blu-Ray, etc.).

The only part of this saga I knew in 2009, of course, was the conventional wisdom that Mandy Lane would likely never see the light of day in the states. So, when a friend slid me over a copy--ostensibly burned from an international source--I figured there'd be no harm in checking it out.

Now for the question: Why isn't Amber Heard a mega-star? The actress has had more designed-to-be-breakout roles, I think, than anyone in history, but has yet to connect with audiences in a manner proportionate to her talents. Her CV is littered with starring roles in projects like The Rum Diary, The Ward, and a host of other potentially huge movies that, for one reason or another, simply went nowhere.*

Her first film role was as the titular Mandy Lane, a shy, virtuous high school girl whom every guy wants to conquer--and not even sexually: simply holding hands with Mandy Lane is the equivalent of getting to third base with most of her peers. She's not just girl-next-door attractive, she's also quiet and kind of boring, which contrasts the ultra-narcissistic, vice-driven lives of almost everyone around her. Mandy's best friend, Emmet (Michael Welch), obviously has a crush on her, but as a shy social outcast himself, he has little to do but take abuse by jocks who want to get with his lifelong buddy.

Following a tragic accident that ruins their friendship, Mandy heads to an end-of-junior-year party in a remote cabin in the woods--leaving Emmet behind to sulk. The get-together is small, and comprised of archetypes that would later be skewered in...The Cabin in the Woods. Rather than saying anything new about The Jock, The Princess, The Wannabe, The Clown, or the rest, screenwriter Jacob Forman sets his sights on bringing out the real-world worst in his characters. His dialogue is sharp, nasty, and real (if not conversationally, at least emotionally), and he gives the audience a genuine reason to want to see most (not all) of these characters taken out.

Yes, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a brand of stalk-and-slash horror movie, a "Ten Little Indians" Whodunnit in the vein of Friday the 13th. But Forman and director Jonathan Levine establish a unique voice rooted in the social horrors these teens face, which make their gruesome demises seem almost like a welcome relief. When even BFFs Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price) can't go five minutes without ripping on the other's body type or snorting Ritalin, what chance does an outsider with morals have? And what does it say about Mandy's crop of would-be prospects that even the seemingly nice guy is out to win a competition among his bros?

These teenagers are awful to one another, but it's telling that, in the moments just before their death, Levine and Forman make an effort to humanize them. Sure, that means we have to watch them stumble around, cry, and beg for their lives--something I don't tend to enjoy in my entertainment--but at the very least they resemble human beings, and not just polo-shirt-wearing meat sacks to be creatively punctured. I also like the fact that, since the group is so small, the film takes the time to invest in its characters and pepper the kills throughout the run-time. Strip the horror element out of the story, and you're still left with an alternately funny and sad teen-party movie--one that winds through the wee hours and into the dawn, where characters must deal with hangovers both chemical and emotional.

The big question, though, is, "Who's the killer?" I won't spoil the surprise for you, because I think the movie is really worth checking out. Watching it a second time, I was embarrassed at not having picked up the fist-sized breadcrumbs the filmmakers set out for me. Some of you will, no doubt, figure out the secret early on, but I don't blame anyone for getting caught up in Levine and Forman's weird, dark journey; if anything, knowing the perpetrator's identity gives the film a high level of re-watchability, in the same way that one can't revisit The Usual Suspects with the same set of eyes.

If there's a problem with Mandy Lane, it's a simple matter of timing. The film was made in the mid-2000s, and it shows. From the Rob Zombie-inspired freeze-and-slide transitions to the left-out-in-the-sun look that permeated nearly every horror film in the post-Texas-Chainsaw-remake era, there's an odd, dated quality that may turn off some viewers heading out to see it this weekend. On the plus side, newcomers will get to play "Spot the Up-and-Comer" with some of the cast, who've since found fame in movies like Twilight and The Purge.**

If I'd had any confidence that I'd one day be able to catch All the Boys Love Mandy Lane on the big screen, or in another format that I could pay for, I never would have stooped to watching a bootleg. As it stands, I can't wait to own this thing on home video. In addition to being a fun artifact of turn-of-the-century genre filmmaking and economic decline, it's also a pretty kick-ass little movie that's easy to fall in love with.

Chicagoans! All the Boys Love Mandy Lane opens today at the Music Box Theatre on Southport!

*Case in point: for real-time, relevant proof of this theory, track the box office receipts for Machete Kills this weekend.

**Please do not take that Twilight reference as a comparison between those teen-centric films and this movie about teenagers. The only thing they have in common is a single castmember.