Jennifer’s Body

Dir: Karyn Kusama


Fox Atomic

102 Minutes

In 2007, Diablo Cody burst on the scene with the irreverent Juno. A slew of awards, including the almighty Oscar, soon followed. Not since Quentin Tarantino has a screenwriter garnered such attention. Cody wasn’t just a writer; she was a star, anointed the voice of the younger generation. One writer went so far as to say, “I have a feeling she is really going to bring about a new revolution in Hollywood with her writing.” Well, the revolution is over. Move along, people. There’s nothing to see here.

When Cody started writing Jennifer’s Body, her intention was to create “something dark, very brooding, a traditional slasher movie.” Cody has explained, “And then I realized about a third of the way into the process that I was incapable of doing that because the humor just kept sneaking in.” And that’s precisely the problem with Jennifer’s Body. It suffers from an identity crisis. It’s not horror because it’s not scary. And it doesn’t have enough laughs to be a comedy. Add a failed attempt at the teen angst genre to the mix, and you get one train wreck of a movie.

Needy Lesniski (Amanda Seyfried) is your typical high school nerd. Of course she is. She wears glasses. Her best friend, Jennifer (Megan Fox), just happens to be the hottest girl in school. And she knows it too. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship: Jennifer keeps the frumpy Needy around so she can look good in comparison, while Needy obediently follows Jennifer because Jennifer is, well, hot. One night, Jennifer drags Needy to a bar to watch the indie band, Low Shoulder. Jennifer is immediately transfixed by the band’s charismatic lead singer (Adam Brody). Somehow, the bar catches on fire, thus ending the show. Despite Needy’s protests, Jennifer hops into the band’s van and disappears into the night. The next time Jennifer is seen, she’s a bloody mess. She has turned into a demon and needs to feed on boys to maintain her own vitality. Yes, a literal man eater.

“I was simultaneously trying to pay a tribute to some of the conventions we’ve already seen in horror yet, at the same time, kind of turn them on their ear,” Cody has said. The horror conventions are there all right, but they come off as just mundane, badly done clichés. The feeble attempts at satire feel condescending because all good satire requires affection. Unlike Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) or Sam Raimi (Evil Dead), neither Cody nor the director, Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux), knows the genre well. This is their first foray into horror and it’s obvious they’re slumming. Kusama tries to be tasteful by leaving the violence off-screen, but then includes gore for gore’s sake scenes as if she’s trying to meet some horror quota. The problem is that without fear and dread, gore can do nothing more than gross people out. It’s a shame because the premise of sex leading to cannibalism can be truly horrifying. Just take a look at what Claire Denis was able to do with Trouble Every Day.

Cody isn’t as shy with the Juno-speak. Her snarky wit hits the ground running with the opening voice over narration. She’s so self-aware that she even labels Jennifer’s dialogue as Jennifer-speak. The stylized dialogue works when the teenagers use it with each other, as sort of a coded language only they can understand. But when the adults use it, it becomes very grating very fast. It also functions as a distancing mechanism as it winks and nudges knowingly at what’s happening on the screen. But that undercuts many scenes, and the tonal shifts are jarring.

“But can Megan Fox act?” you ask. Make no mistake about it. The camera loves Megan Fox … but not as much as Megan Fox loves Megan Fox. She sleepwalks through the entire movie as if she’s experiencing a masturbatory orgasm. Luckily, that’s one of the two emotions her role calls for, the other being outright bitchiness. In this regard, she’s well-cast. Amanda Seyfried fares much better, her performance anchoring the movie. Adam Brody is excellent as the leader of the indie band, while J.K. Simmons steals every scene he’s in as the sensitive, one-armed high school teacher. Amy Sedaris is so inconsequential she could have been replaced by a sock puppet.

For those who are expecting a feminist message because the writer, the director and the two central characters are women, think again. This is, after all, a movie whose marketing centers around a gratuitous lesbian kiss. By the way, it takes so long to get to that much ballyhooed kiss that it becomes anticlimactic (A word of advice: wait for the DVD and become familiar with the forward button.). The girls give it their all, but it feels surprisingly chaste, especially for Jennifer, who talks a big game. This raises the question of who the intended audience for this movie is. Despite being rated R, there’s relatively little gore and absolutely no nudity. Yet, it’s too hard edged for a PG-13 audience. With all its heavy marketing, the movie may eventually find its audience. But one thing’s for sure. Cody is not getting another Oscar for this one.

by James Shelledy

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