In 2006, Jonathan Levine put the finishing touches on what was supposed to be his debut feature, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,” an erratic deconstruction of the teen slasher film. Then it sat on the shelf.
Finally released after all these years, the movie doesn’t show many signs of the talent exhibited in his best work, “The Wackness” (2008). They both explore themes of teen anomie and angst, but the latter (which, unlike “Mandy,” Levine also wrote), seems more about life than about generic conventions. Despite moments of black comedy and some memorable images, this “debut’’ doesn’t offer a lot to love.
As the title suggests, Mandy Lane (Amber Heard), has her admirers, and a sorry lot they are. Like the meathead who drags Mandy and her best friend Emmet (Michael Welch) to his pool party. He uses an offensive epithet for Emmet and asks to see Mandy’s panties and nobody will feel bad when he pays the price for his poor judgment.
“Nine months later,” as the intertitle states, Mandy and Emmet are estranged, presumably because of the pool party fiasco, and she once again unwisely accepts an invitation from some of the boys who want to get in her drawers. She joins nerdy pothead Red (Aaron Himelstein), cocky jock Bird (Edwin Hodge), and weaselly horn-dog Jake (Luke Grimes), and their camp followers Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price) for a wild weekend at Red’s father’s Texas ranch. The boys do everything they can to be repulsive — drinking, smoking, groping, talking trash — all enabled by their pathetic groupies, until the scourge of puritanical justice expected in such movies inevitably descends. But the partygoers’ horrible but unimaginative fates don’t arouse any sympathy or satisfaction; they seem merely sadistic and gratuitous.
Only the identity of the assailant sustains much interest, and how Levine and his screenwriter Jacob Forman can subvert the usual expectations in resolving the story. Could the culprit be the 30-ish ranch hand Garth (Anson Mount), a war vet and victim of tragedy and the only character with depth? Mount’s performance brings nuance to the shy, damaged hunk who always shows up lugging a huge phallic shotgun, and the mutual attraction between him and the underaged Mandy (played by Heard with a quizzical blankness that could pass for mystery) suggests an erotic tension with overtones of danger.
Instead of developing that kind of psychological subtlety which might shed light on the adolescent turmoil that is their subject, the filmmakers juggle dead-end plot alternatives and end up with a resolution that is confused, abstract, and arbitrary. Levine does show inspiration in his visuals, with atmospheric shots of the bleak Texas landscape and the sinister-seeming details of the cattle ranch. But in the end Mandy Lane comes off more like a project than a person. The boys all love her; too bad Levine and Forman don’t.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.