How Rose McGowan drew ‘Jawbreaker’ inspiration from ‘Leave Her to Heaven’
As one of the 1990s ‘It Girls’, Rose McGowan starred in some of the cult classics of the decade, such as The Doom Generation, Scream and Jawbreaker. The latter is a teen black comedy directed by Darren Stein that follows a trio of popular high school students, including McGowan, who accidentally murder a fourth group member. Stein’s film drew inspiration from Daniel Walters’s 1988 dark comedy Heathers and later inspired Mean Girls.
In the film, McGowan plays Courtney Shayne, a manipulative, cruel and vindictive student who rules the group with a firm grasp. Shayne cooks up the sick idea of a joke to kidnap a fellow member Elizabeth and stuff her in the trunk of a car with jawbreakers stuffed in her gagged mouth. However, the girl chokes to death on the sweets, leaving Shayne and her other two friends in a state of chaos. One friend, Julie, urges the group to go to the police, which Shayne strictly forbids.
Crumbling under the pressure, guilt and rage, Julie then reveals the shocking event the exact moment Shayne is crowned prom queen, turning the entire school against her. McGowan’s mean queen character was revered, and she earned an MTV Movie Award nomination for ‘Best Villain’.
In an interview with Dazed, the star shared her blueprint for such a spiteful yet stylish character, referencing a 1945 psychological thriller. “Jawbreaker was my second film – or maybe it was my third – but I still didn’t know what I was doing, so I based my character completely on Gene Tierney in a movie called Leave Her to Heaven.”
Leave Her to Heaven was directed by John M. Stahl and starred Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, and Vincent Price. The film follows a socialite, played by Tierney, who weds Wilde’s novelist, leading to a bitter mess of jealousy, violence, obsession and danger. Leave Her to Heaven is marked as an essential case study film criticism due to its blend of genres and references to Greek mythology. This unexpected blend works effectively, as the film exhibits the popular trope of the femme fatale and the Electra complex in a stylised manner.
McGowan references one of Tierney’s most vicious acts in the film as a basis for how she portrayed the spiteful Shayne. “She (Tierney’s character) pushes her stepson, who is in a wheelchair off a cliff. And when the husband is all, ‘But why? Why did you do it?’ ‘But darling, we needed more time together.’ It was logic-based,” the actor explains. “So my only approach to Courtney was she would probably pass a lie detector; it makes complete sense in her head, ‘And there’s not really a big deal, and I don’t really understand what the fuss is about.’”
McGowan addresses Shayne’s psychology within the film, including how she can pose as Liz’s mother to explain her absences from school, lie about Liz being attacked by a rapist and buy silence from her peers. “I think she’s a bit sociopathic, but in the best way,” the star says. “She’s a young, budding sociopath.”
The Jawbreakers director also expressed McGowan’s impressive performance as a sociopathic teen who will not let anything stand in her way. “I definitely had a complete vision for that film, and Rose completely understood what that vision was,” Stein shared, “I remember seeing her for the first time in The Doom Generation at a special screening in LA, and I was just like, who? I mean, Rose was like a silver screen star. She was unlike anything I had ever seen in a modern-day context”.
The Doom Generation reads as an erotic yet dangerous journey after a teen couple picks up a hitchhiker with a murderous streak. The film was McGowan’s debut, in which she channelled oodles of angst. These days, McGowan is a vocal and passionate activist against protected abusers in Hollywood, precisely the Harvey Weinstein case and works as a prime figure in the #MeToo Movement.
Watch her chilling performance in Jawbreaker below.