mandylane

The verdict is still out as to whether or not All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, but one thing is certain: the camera sure loves Amber Heard… Somehow, despite being a genuinely disarming onscreen presence for more than half a decade now (in films like 2008’s Pineapple Express, 2009’s Zombieland, and 2011’s The Rum Diary) the blonde bombshell has yet to truly break through to Hollywood’s A-List. Unfortunately, while this delayed slasher, the toast of the 2006 Toronto Filmfest (yes, you heard correct, 2006) definitely lets her movie star charisma shine, Jonathan Levine’s first feature film can’t compete with its leading lady’s inextinguishable luster.

There are lots of pretty girls in small town Texas, but there’s only one Mandy Lane (Heard). Smart, chaste and brimming with a freshly minted sexuality that she seems disarmingly unaware of, every boy (and perhaps a few of the girls) in school can’t help but lusting over the teen dream. In fact, Mandy’s undeniable appeal has even been known to elicit reckless acts of hormonal abandon among her peers; case in point: last year’s tragic events, involving her loyal but slightly odd bestie, Emmet (Michael Welch), and the school’s resident jock, Dylan (Adam Powell).

It’s all-good though, because 12 months have passed and Mandy’s got a new crew at school—one seemingly worthy of her teen queen status. Unlike Emmet however, these kids party hard, so luckily, one of them has a family ranch right outside of town where they can rage for the weekend, gloriously unsupervised. Of course, soon after the friends reach the isolated property, they start dropping like flies (or attractive teens in a Hollywood horror flick), and it appears that someone is gunning for sweet Mandy.

Some articles about the film and its circuitous route towards wide release (after receiving generally positive reviews at the 06 TIFF, it fell into distribution hell for nearly 7 years) would have you believe that it’s a sleeper indie with a sharp style, a biting wit, and surprisingly meta-ending reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s much-delayed 2012 flick, Cabin in the Woods.

Though not entirely off the mark, these arguments might be a bit far-fetched… Is Jonathan Levine a skilled filmmaker with a gritty, slightly comic style that belies a truly unique view of the world? Absolutely! (Need proof, check out 2008’s The Wackness and 2011’s 50/50) Did All the Boys Love Mandy Lane deserve to be dusted off and appreciated by a larger audience than just industry insiders in Toronto? I believe so…  But is it anywhere near as entertaining and original as Whedon’s flick? Hell No!

That’s because aside from offering up a few silly scares, a genuine laugh here and there, and a photogenic cast of young people that look like they’re right off the set of Pretty Little Liars (of which, Whitey Able scores some laughs as a bitchy mean girl while Anson Mount smolders accordingly) there really isn’t much to Levine’s stylish and staid first feature. Except for that scorching leading lady…

Like Jessica Alba and Megan Fox, Heard currently occupies quite a specific niche in Hollywood. Celebrated for her undeniable beauty and singular red-carpet moments, her blazing popularity with the Men’s Magazine set sometimes threatens to overshadow her inherent gifts as an actress. That’s not to say that the starlet possesses Meryl Streep-caliber talent, but then again, who does???

What Heard does have is an effortless appeal that combines intelligence and smoldering sexuality in a way that hasn’t been seen since Angelina Jolie first broke out in the mid-90s. And like Michael Christofer was able to do for the Oscar-Winner and reigning Queen of Hollywood in her breakthrough role (in HBO’s Gia) Levine captures every nuance of Heard’s magnetic, slightly dangerous appeal, revealing the glorious birth of a shining star; one who, as this film proves, has been ready for her close-up since the Bush administration.

Sure it might not live up to the industry hype, but Jonathan Levine’s foray into horror still offers up a few satisfying pleasures, and as embodied by Amber Heard, you can definitely be sure that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane… but then again, doesn’t anybody with two eyes and a pulse?