Amber Heard in 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane' (Radius/TWC)

Review: ‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,’ But None of Them Really Know Her

Amber Heard in 'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane' (Radius/TWC)
Amber Heard in ‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’ (Radius/TWC)

You can’t blame it all on hormones, but hormones sure drive teenage boys crazy with lust. And lust is the primal force that explains why All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. They don’t really love Mandy, of course; they don’t know her at all as a person, but they sure know that she has blossomed into a stunning beauty over the summer, and now, at the start of her junior year of high school, she has become the most in-demand object of attraction.

Like Mandy, the boys are all about 16 years of age, yet their physical development has outraced their emotional maturity. Mandy stands apart as different, a modest, virginal girl who treats everyone with respect, including her best friend Emmet. Unlike Mandy, Emmet has entered his junior year without any noticeable change in his outward appearance; none of the girls lust after him, and he is without any male friends. He is still Mandy’s best friend, though, and so when she is invited to a pool party by the handsome and popular Dylan (Adam Powell), she accepts only if Emmet (Michael Welch) can come too.

An inciting incident occurs at the pool party, causing a rift between Mandy and Emmet. Mandy joins the track team, drifts toward a different set of friends, and becomes accepted, while keeping her virtue intact. Mandy, an orphan raised by her aunt, does not preach to her fellow students, does not lecture them about their drinking and drug use, and does not cast aspersions upon their indiscriminate sexual activity. She quietly declines to share in any of their adolescent behavior, though, keeping her own counsel with a firm hand, and appears to be friends with everyone.

Except Emmet.

Nine months later, as the school year is concluding, Mandy joins a handful of her newly-won friends on a weekend trip to a ranch owned by the family of Red (Aaron Himelstein). Red and his buddies, Jake (Luke Grimes) and Bird (Edwin Hodge), are all determined to “get” Mandy, and hope to do the deed over the weekend.

The other two girls on the trip, Chloe (Whitney Able) and Marlin (Melissa Price), have their own sexual agendas. To add a soupçon of mystery, the ranch’s hired hand Garth (Anson Mount) is a ruggedly handsome fellow who draws admiring looks from all the girls. As the first night progresses, the relationships between the half-dozen friends come into focus. And then things get very, very violent, and the warm evening turns into a nightmare.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival six years ago, thereafter becoming trapped in distribution limbo due to business and legal issues that had nothing to do with the film itself. It is the directorial debut of Jonathan Levine, who went on to make The Wackness (2008), 50/50 (2011), and Warm Bodies (2013). Especially having his later work in mind, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane represents an important first step for Levine, a well-measured drama that is soaked in the sights and sounds and confused emotions and conflicting feelings of teenagers dealing with lust and love and rejection and heartache.

As gracefully underplayed by Amber Heard, who was 19 or 20 at the time, Mandy is a glistening golden child, beautiful in form and conduct. The other teens are evidently popular, yet they manifest all sorts of immaturity, not only the excessive drinking and drugging, but also their rude, unkind, often thoughtless words to each other, flinging insults without consideration of the detrimental effect upon their supposed friends. Much of this is because they are not very empathetic, focusing instead on their own needs. They’re not all bad; they just need a little more life experience under their belt.

So when terrible things start to happen to these teens, the gruesome, bloody violence cannot be easily shaken off. The characters, with all their flaws, have been introduced, and shown to be normal teenagers; no one will stand up to cheer the death of any of these kids. Even though the original screenplay by Jacob Forman makes some puzzling choices, its overall effect is quite powerful.

The authenticity of the dialogue, bolstered by the striking visuals employed by Levine and director of photography by Darren Genet, and enhanced by the slightly off-kilter editing by Josh Noyes, ensures that the film will linger long in the memory.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is now playing a limited engagement at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano; evening shows only.