New Girl, by Scott Nye
“See a 2006 film…today!” As frustrating as it was to wait six years for Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret to move from filming to wide release, at least one could say it was entangled in a long editorial process, and that the film had yet to take shape (one could argue it never really did). Jonathan Levine’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, on the other hand, was finished and shown seven years ago, but is just now seeing wide release in, apparently, exactly the form in which it showed then. In the meantime, Levine has made three more films – The Wackness, 50/50, and Warm Bodies – while star Amber Heard has languished in slightly-more-visible anonymity (outside of any potential fan club, I wonder if anyone could name more than three of the two dozen films she was in). All of which makes this film’s tortured lifespan all the rougher, because it may be the best work either has done.
Heard stars as the titular Mandy Lane, who, as the Boys have noticed upon returning to school, became quite a lovely lady over the previous summer. And, boys being boys, three of them make a sport of it, dragging her out to a remote lake house, along with two other young women, in hopes that some specific manners of merriment will ensue. But something ominous has been afoot since the start, and before long, hints of blood become buckets, and a killer is on the loose.
The film spends very little time playing around with the killer’s identity, one of many welcome retreats it will eventually take from the familiar slasher genre, using it instead to illustrate pent-up tensions within the social hierarchy of your Average American High School. Levine and screenwriter Jacob Forman use stock types to accentuate both the ways in which their protagonist is unique, and also how totally she fits into certain archetypes. Mandy may be the prettiest girl in school, but she doesn’t act like it, and her Heard plays her character’s general reserve and nonchalance to suggest myriad values and qualities, not the least of which is the way she is viewed – unattainable, an object of worship, someone whose beauty clearly means she must be the most fascinating person in the world, even if ultimately, she’s driven by the same selfish desires and curiosities as the rest. The teasing hints at her sexual development are neither lingered on nor entirely ignored, providing an intriguing undercurrent without outright explaining anything.
Levine certainly understands the value in presenting Mandy the way she is viewed by others, employing no shortage of slow-motion, warm lighting, and carefully-chosen angles to accentuate her many physical qualities, but this is more than simple leering (though I’m not ready to discount that as a prime motivator). If “all the boys” are indeed to fall to pieces over her, even a woman of Amber Heard’s considerable beauty is not enough – she must be angelic. The way he ultimately subverts this image makes it all the more potent. He shows the ideal fragmenting using a technique Tony Scott developed in Man on Fire and Domino, double- and even triple-exposing the negative by running it in reverse through the camera, causing bodies to fragment across the screen. Levine and cinematographer Darren Genet aren’t quite as freewheeling and bold with it as Scott and his collaborators, but it nonetheless leaves a mark.