At The Picture Show
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Long-delayed 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane' abandons its sexual commentary in favor of standard-issue violence
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenplay: Jacob Forman
Starring: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able, Michael Welch, Luke Grimes, Edwin Hodge, Aaron Himelstein and Melissa Price
Rated R / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
There's a surprising and promising sense of depth at the outset of Jonathan Levine's All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. But slowly over the course of the movie, it gets chipped away, until finally leaving us with a boilerplate teen slasher movie that no longer cares about anything it previously had to say.
What's disappointing about the film is not simply that it eventually finds its way into the snug footprints of its subgenre predecessors, but that it clearly has the ambition and maturity for something better, and refuses to follow through on it. What it ultimately gives us is a title character who begins as one kind of enigma and ends as another, but whose most important qualities - symbolic and otherwise - are tossed aside in favor of banal storytelling choices.
The first thing we see of Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is her (clothed) breasts as she walks down the hall at her high school, the object of attention from every boy in school. She's noticeably uncomfortable in this role - and we soon discover that she doesn't run with the popular crowd, and doesn't seem to like much attention at all. Her best friend - who very obviously would like to be much more - is Emmet (Michael Welch), who has nothing but contempt for the popular kids at school. But much to his chagrin, it's the popular kids who are the most tenacious in their pursuit of Mandy Lane.
Fast-forward to the following school year. Mandy - having already unwittingly caused one kid to drunkenly fall to his death trying to impress her - has seemingly moved on from the likes of the nerdy, aloof Emmet, and is in with the cool kids. They invite her out for a weekend of partying at the country home of Red's (Aaron Himelstein) family. Red, like most of the other guys in school and definitely like the other two guys along for the weekend - insatiable skirt-chaser Jake (Luke Grimes) and the more polite, but still horny, Bird (Edwin Hodge) - promises he's going to be the first one to take Mandy to bed. Tonight's the night, he insists.
But what emerges here is not a typical teen sex romp gone wrong, but an attuned commentary on sexual politics and body image. Our first view of Mandy Lane - specific as it is - sets the appropriate introductory note, because there's such a pronounced focus on the body - particularly the female body, and the ways it is coveted, idealized, degraded or, as the case may be, ignored.
Mandy's new friends, Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price), attack each other about trivial body issues in the locker room, and say even worse things when the other is out of the room. The guys are even worse - they treat Mandy Lane's virginity like a prize, and all three of them make a play at it over the course of the night.
But fate has much more exciting things on tap than merely sex. By which I mean, there's someone sneaking around the house seemingly intent on killing them all. Levine, having established a murky, brooding atmosphere, with photography reminiscent of a '70s B-horror flick but infused with a quiet naturalism, does an impressive job establishing the presence of the killer. Jake and Marlin make a little jaunt across the property and over to the cattle shed to fool around; but just behind them, entirely out of focus and only slightly lit by the moonlight, is a figure, lurking but not moving. I kept expecting Marlin (who's facing in the direction of the shadowy figure) to notice something - perhaps at just the wrong moment for Jake - but she doesn't. Levine lets the moment sit there, lets the unknown person's presence just sink in. (I'm sure plenty of people miss it altogether, their eyes keenly focused on the, uh, more exciting action happening in the foreground.)
But the care with which the film's various sexual dynamics are presented begins to dwindle the more and more it focuses on the killer, and the other characters' attempts to survive. I don't want to spoil anything, but the third act - while thematically defensible in one sense - doesn't make a whole lot of sense the way it plays out. You could make the argument that it's a logical conclusion to what the film has been doing all along; but, for various reasons I can't get into right now, I really don't think that case would hold up to scrutiny.
Still, the fact that Mandy Lane approaches this story as a substantive piece of work is a step in the right direction for the played-out teen horror genre - though, interestingly, it's a step that was technically taken about seven years ago. The film was made back in 2006, but a variety of distributor issues left it on the shelf until this fall. It was Levine's debut feature, and he went on to direct The Wackness, 50/50 and Warm Bodies.
He shows a nice, if raw, touch with Mandy Lane, though he resorts to montaging his sequences together too often, making it seem like he's directing a music video or a Levi's commercial. He also feels the need to play around with some stupid photographic and editing tricks that make him look like he's trying to emulate Tony Scott.
But hey, that was 2006, right? Mandy Lane remains a confident debut nonetheless, even if it loses its footing right around the time the story requires a twist. As these drunk teenagers gather around a table playing Truth or Dare (what else?), there's a lot of underlying tensions going on between them. That's where the film is at its strongest; pity it couldn't find a way to better blend those ideas with the horror elements that emerge moments later.
Read more by Chris Bellamy