JENNIFER’S BODY Review

     September 17, 2009

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Is “Jennifer’s Body” an allegory for a woman dealing with the aftermath of her rape?  Is it a metaphor for the perceived threat of female sexual power?  Is it about the dissolution of sisterhood as a result of turning attention to the pursuit of men to the neglect of all else?  Is it commentary on gender roles in modern youth culture?

Actually, “Jennifer’s Body” is none of these things but it leaves them at the periphery in such a frustrating and non-committal manner that all you’re left with is a bland horror flick punctuated with Diablo Cody’s singular dialogue.  Oh, and Megan Fox being attractive.  Don’t forget Megan Fox being attractive.  You may have forgotten that she’s attractive.  You should know that before you see the movie.

Jennifers Body movie image Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox.jpgThe film opens with Needy (Amanda Seyfried) locked up in a mental institution and providing a voice-over of “how things weren’t always like this” and “We used to be normal.”  We then go back to a magical time when she was a dorky teenager with a cute boyfriend (Johnny Simmons) and Jennifer Check (Fox), the hottest girl in school and Needy’s life-long friend.  The film rushes through this relationship as we get a quick flashback of their eternal “sandbox love” and load up on Jennifer spouting Cody-slang like calling female horniness “getting a wetty” and calling attractive boys “salty”.  For those that found Cody’s stylized dialogue a problem in her first film “Juno”, you’ll find this film intolerable especially since director Karyn Kusama has no idea how to match her direction with Cody’s script.

After we’ve learned that Needy is basically Jennifer’s conservative-yet-protective sidekick and Jennifer is over-confident and gets by on her looks, the movie thinks it’s ready to run out and have some fun but it’s already a mess.  The rushed introduction undermines the rest of the movie as we don’t understand Jennifer and Needy beyond these broad character traits and their relationship lacks complexity.  Also, while it’s believable that Needy would only have one friend, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that Jennifer wouldn’t have dropped Needy by middle school and have a clique of other pretty girls following her around.  Sandbox-love is strong but high school insecurity trumps all.

With these vague outlines barely established, Jennifer drags Needy to the bar “Melody Lane” so they can see the band “Low Shoulder” because Jennifer looked at their MySpace page and thinks the lead singer (Adam Brody) is hot.  The only problem is that Low Shoulder worships Satan and after setting the bar on fire and killing most of its highly-flammable patrons, they’re able to lure a shell-shocked Jennifer into their van and take her off into the woods while Needy looks on helplessly.

Later that night, as Needy is walking through her unlit house (even though the electricity works fine so she could just turn on a light), she’s terrified by a blood-drenched Jennifer who proceeds to devour a Boston Market roasted chicken before vomiting black, spikey sludge across Needy’s kitchen and then racing out into the night

Megan Fox Jennifers Body movie image.jpgAs it turns out, it’s not so much digestive problems brought on by Boston Market roasted chickens as it is that Jennifer is now a demon.  Needy is the only one who sees her friend’s transformation and no one in the town has any explanation for why teenage boys are getting ripped to shreds.  Meanwhile, Low Shoulder and their awful music begin a meteoric rise after the fire at Melody Lane and they provide the film’s funniest moments and inadvertently demonstrate the film’s key failure.

Cody’s sharpest commentary is reserved for bands like Low Shoulder, an indie band whose greatest aspiration is to be the next “Maroon 5″.  The film absolutely nails this kind of bland “indie rock” music that fills the airwaves and we learn more about the main characters more through their taste in music than by their actions.  If Cody’s devoted as much wit and energy to creating cohesive ideas and coherent ideas as she does to taking apart modern rock music, “Jennifer’s Body” would be a standout horror flick and cement Cody as one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood today.

Instead, the movie does the exact opposite.  Needy’s wandering through her darkened house is not only generic but was done effortlessly to the point of parody earlier this year in “Drag Me to Hell”.  Kusama clings to these stock horror tropes as a life raft when Cody’s script wants to venture out into the sea, away from the comforting shores of crackling dialogue.  Instead of letting Cody give a spin to the horror genre, Kusama wants to keep it nice and tidy which makes the movie predictable and therefore not horrifying.  It also makes Cody’s dialogue stand out like a gal who dressed up for a costume party and walked into a funeral (although that would be kind of funny and original and Kusama doesn’t want her horror and comedy to overlap).  Cody’s words never lose their confidence but they’re out of place to the point where they’re almost gratingly non-conformist.

Finally, this movie won’t change your opinion on Megan Fox nor does it intend to.  She is sexy.  She knows how to deliver Cody’s dialogue.  She occasionally gets to be threatening but even her threats sound a little sexy.  Fox saying, “I want you helpless,” doesn’t scare; it arouses because that’s why you hire Megan Fox at this point in her career.  “Jennifer’s Body” requires nothing else from her and that’s disappointing when you consider that a story told from Jennifer’s perspective would provide a challenge for Fox that she hasn’t yet encountered in her movie career.  This film really belongs to Seyfried and she does a fantastic job by playing the role not as a scream queen but as the unlikely heroine who has to choose between her love for her best friend and protecting everyone else, especially her boyfriend.

The failure of “Jennifer’s Body” lies with the partnership between Kusama and Cody.  They fail their movie in the one area where it could be something more than just a monster flick featuring a hot actress.  Usually when you encounter a character so thinly drawn as Jennifer, the writer is trying to use that character as a symbol.  Except is Jennifer a symbol of female empowerment?  The perceived threat of female sexuality?  There’s phallic and vaginal imagery scattered throughout the film but what purpose do they serve?  I don’t know and neither does “Jennifer’s Body” because its fatal flaw is mistaking dubiety for ambiguity.

Rating —– C minus

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