Sure, I could launch into a whole spiel about how Jonathan Levine’s first movie All The Boys Love Mandy Lane sat around for years as The Wackness, 50/50, and Warm Bodies wowed audiences, but that would only feed the hype-machine. For years festival fans were wondering when Mandy Lane’s face would show up in theaters worldwide.
This year, almost seven full years later, it finally happened – but was everyone a little too excited? Was everyone walking into Levine’s first film thinking of the quality products he’s put out since, and not the possibility that All The Boys Love Mandy Lane might be nothing like them? That’s the problem with hype and expectations, and why I try to keep my mind completely blank going into a film, because All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is rough around the edges in ways Levine has never shown before.
Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) is the girl every guy at school wants to “get with.” Innocent, sweet, sexy, and available, some of the local “cool kids” invite Mandy for a vacation getaway on an empty family ranch. Agreeing to come, the boys get excited and prepare for a weekend of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll – or whatever music the kids listen to these days. Late at night, when hormones start raging, things take a turn for the deadly though, as the kids start disappearing one by one. Is there someone else vying for Mandy Lane’s attention, willing to kill everyone in his way?
Here’s the problem with All The Boys Love Mandy Lane – in attempting to pay homage to the slasher genre while simultaneously attempting to reinvent the wheel, Jacob Forman’s script is neither shocking nor creatively brilliant, which Levine falsely promises with his direction. Running along at an excruciatingly generic pace, scares are at an absolute minimum while inexcusable moments of “friend walking into focus” type jolts reign supreme. Not only that, but what little surprises Forman attempts to “Shyamalan” into his script are horribly telegraphed entire scenes before, as subtlety isn’t this slasher wannabe’s strong point. A twist? You’re trying to tell me there was a twist somewhere here? Hell, a blindfolded cow could have seen every “twist” about a mile away.
Amber Heard on the other hand saves some face as lead character Mandy Lane, almost convincing me my premonitions were foolishly wrong. At a much younger age than we’re used to seeing her, Amber does her best to distract audiences and play a strong type of survivor girl, utilizing her beauty and grace to charm viewers. Strong-willed and morally upstanding, Mandy not only has to fight off a mysterious killer, but also has to survive wave after wave of cheesy boyhood pickup attempts, which Heard does with confidence. As far as female horror characters go, Amber Heard turns in a fun genre performance that stands out against such a dusty backdrop.
Adding a pleasurably artsy touch, Jonathan Levine and cinematographer Darren Genet shot All The Boys Love Mandy Lane with a very grainy texture, giving a gnarly old-school feel to a film paying tribute to the slashers of old. Don’t get me wrong, the picture was still clear, but you’re just waiting for a cigarette burn to flash on screen or the reel to melt up, almost as if you were at a drive-in movie theater. Again, Levine hits on nostalgic “slasher movies of old” nods, but unfortunately his own film lacks the gumption to live up to their reputation. In recreating a historic vibe, his own film suffers, and we’re left with noticeable genre love, but a weak, faltering story.
Would All The Boys Love Mandy Lane have played in a more favorable light if it were released before any of Levine’s recent films? I hope not, but part of me believes some young gun named Jonathan Levine would be given a little more slack than Sundance Festival Winner/Blockbuster director Jonathan Levine. Is it fair? No. Is it an inevitable by-product of the evil hype-machine? Unfortunately. Levine’s horror feature just doesn’t hold up to other homages turned original works of cinema, resorting to teen slasher norms that show genre inexperience and moments of cheap tactics. Fun at parts and gleefully written at times, we can see Levine’s style starting to grow, but ultimately, Mandy Lane just isn’t fit for the pedestal that so many put her on.