“You’re lime green Jell-o and you can’t even admit it.”
The Scoop: 2009 R, directed by Karyn Kusama and starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, and Adam Brody
Tagline: She’s evil . . . and not just high school evil.
Summary Capsule: Turns out when an emo band sacrifices a non-virgin to the devil for fame they still get what they want, while the girl gets resurrected as the human vessel of a flesh-hungry demon (doesn’t seem fair, does it?)
Kyle’s Rating: What are overly-stylized too-quirky-by-far words for when no one listens anymore?
Kyle’s Review: The temptation is enormous to make any review of Jennifer’s Body into a manifesto against the soft targets of Megan Fox and Diablo Cody. 90% of the criticism I’ve read has wasted few sentences before attacking Fox for being a wholly manufactured celebrity by way of countless airbrushed photographs, and attacking Cody for overdoing both the stylized dialogue (see: Juno backlash) and her own outlandish life. All of which is perhaps fair game: Jennifer’s Body would have received little to no buzz outside of being Cody’s follow-up screenplay to Juno and offering the implicit-in-the-title promise of seeing Fox in some form of undress. The excellently critical 10%, with Roger Ebert as always leading the pack, manages to at least make the attempt to gauge Jennifer’s Body if not in a vacuum, than at least within the confines of the comedic horror genre to which it (somewhat uneasily) belongs.
Overall, by that standard, Jennifer’s Body is a solidly good movie, with a few great performances and possessed of a consistent spark elevating even those most tired horror tropes (teenage funerals, clueless cops, sex-crazed boys not noticing or minding that their would-be sex date is taking place in an isolated & abandoned building, etc.) into an entertaining mixture. That said, the presence of ‘it’ girl Fox and its authorship by Cody means that being ‘merely good’ places Jennifer’s Body firmly in the class of ‘interesting failure.’ While it certainly strides more often than it stumbles, the potential to absolutely shine is right there for the taking and the film never delivers on its promises, leaving one to exit the theater thinking wistfully about how great it could have been.
The story is fairly basic, at least as far as horror plots go: an eager emo band decides to find quick fame by sacrificing a virgin to the devil, only their foxy choice (Fox’s Jennifer) left her virginity back in junior high so while the band achieves success their flawed sacrifice is resurrected as the vessel for a flesh-eating demon and only Jennifer’s suspicious best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) can save the foolish high school boys lining up to unwittingly become Jennifer’s next meal.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t? Don’t be shy, it really does. Within even my rudimentary plot description there’s a touch of Cronenberg-esque body horror, the promise of demonic possession leading to messy body devouring, the ironical twist of the hot girl taking advantage of horny high school boys, and the always reliable ‘only the best friend realizes what’s going on and is in a position to save the day’ path to the final showdown. Slapping the nickname ‘Needy’ on Seyfried’s only-possibly-nerdy-by-movie-standards-otherwise-hotter-than-99%-of-my-hs-classmates best friend character (full name: Anita Lesnicki, her nickname seems designed to add superfluous character the incredibly-talented Seyfried can supply with a mere inclination of her head) is the first hint of Cody doing her thing; by the time Jennifer is mocking Needy’s bf Chip (the sublime Johnny Simmons) as “lime green Jell-o” the Cody Dialogue Effect is in full force within the film.
The problem, and what holds Jennifer’s Body back from greatness, is that for all the perfect set-ups the story presents, the film never really pounces on them like Jennifer on her hapless victims. Though even Jennifer’s attacks are tame: I prefer the tense story twists of horror over gore effects, but even I was slightly disappointed by the fairly tame kill scenes and dead body effects displayed here. Though one victim is described as resembling “lasagna with teeth” upon discovery, our glimpses of a half-heartedly ripped-open victim and another with an abdominal wound from which Jennifer casually laps up handfuls of blood are on par with the student projects displayed by make-up effects schools who advertise in Fangoria magazine. The film places an emphasis on blood over flesh when it comes to Jennifer (and Needy as well, in a childhood flashback of the girls featuring either a kissing-a-cut-to-make-it-better or forming-a-blood-bond-via-quick-blood-sucking you’ll-have-to-decide move by Needy on Jennifer’s cut palm which may or may not form a psychic connection between the girls, you’ll have to decide on that, too), which in turn draws one away from demonic connections towards vampiric ones, which sets Cody against Whedon; a battle Cody can’t really hope to win. Especially amongst the hipster set already fueling the backlash against Cody; even Ellen Page will feel their wrath when her upcoming film is succinctly labeled as ‘Juno on roller skates’ (sorry, Drew Barrymore’s directing debut!).
More to the point, so many times you see the makings of a target set to be skewered with razor-sharp wit, and not even a dull blade appears to take a swipe. It would be unfair to ask any other film to mix insight with carnage but again the Diablo Cody pedigree is built upon such knowing play with conventions; Jennifer’s Body has the necessary structure to outdo not only Scream with the genre self-awareness but also Heathers with a look at the ‘scorched earth’ dynamics of high school existence heightened by a string of murders. But all we get are the possibilities, seeding doubt in Cody’s ability to deliver what her reputation is founded upon. What’s left is just fine, to be sure, but oh what could have been . . .
If I seem to be heaping most of the blame at the feet at Cody, I suppose that accurately sums up my feelings. Acting-wise, shock it may be, Jennifer’s Body acquits itself nicely. Fox doesn’t do much to break out of her limited range (solidly grounded in sexy nonverbal work than accomplished line reading) but isn’t really asked to; her one failing is supplying the sort of magical chemistry with Seyfried that would explain how these two opposites have remained best friends. Although even that flaw arises from the script; Fox and Seyfried have the sort of rapport that befits good friends but never get the dialogue or scenes that would make their ‘bff’ status concrete. Seyfried is one of two absolute standouts, though if you haven’t tagged her as a future superstar from her wide field of work (including Veronica Mars, Mean Girls, and Mamma Mia!) you haven’t been paying attention. Adam Brody all but steals the film as the casually-homicidal lead singer of the most evil emo band in the world, Low Shoulder, though I’ll grudgingly forgive you for not noticing his greatness in such work as The OC and In the Land of Women. Everyone else does fine work, but Seyfried and Brody’s exemplary work leave the rest behind.
Any complaints I have about some occasional listless performances and seemingly confused line deliveries once again point to the screenplay as the culprit. Ellen Page is elevated even more in my eyes for making Cody’s dialogue shine, though there are more flaws than dumb invented phrases here. Is Jennifer purely a demon using her memories to wreak emotional havoc on Needy, or is there enough of Jennifer left to indulge in the freedom of demonic powers? Does the fact that Jennifer wasn’t a virgin mean that Low Shoulder’s success comes from the happy circumstance of being (false) heroes of the bar tragedy or did their sacrifice actually work at least for them? Does the sinister whirlpool of Devil’s Kettle play a role in the proceedings or is final reel discovery of a certain murder weapon mean it’s just a scientific red herring? And did Low Shoulder set the bar fire or was it plot convenience orchestrated by either a demonic force or a lazy creative one? Cody wrote the screenplays for both Jennifer’s Body and Juno in 2006; I’m willing to bet she did very little revising of this script even in the face of prevalent Cody-bashing. So many loose threads abound and ultimately it doesn’t matter who’s to blame: it’s the film that suffers.
What’s most amusing is for all the contemplation I’ve done here in ultimately arguing against all its flaws that Jennifer’s Body is still worth seeing, I can guarantee that right this very minute you already know whether you’ll someday sit through this movie or not. I suppose that’s the rub with such overly-stylized work; I know of several people locally who avoided The Brothers Bloom simply because they didn’t “get” Brick. I suppose Juno backlash aside the genre of horror comedy is a prickly one for most moviegoers; Jennifer’s Body can and should succeed quite nicely on the home-viewing circuit. I definitely think it’s a movie worthy of your attention, though I urge you to leave your outside preconceptions of Cody and Fox behind as much as possible. Not every film can be an innovative genre-buster, especially one that seemingly sets out to be so, but neither can a film hope to succeed when it leaves so much potential untouched.
- Diablo Cody wrote both Jennifer’s Body and Juno‘s screenplays in 2006
- Although actual musicians were considered for the role of Nikolai, including Pete Wentz and Joel Madden, the role ultimately went to Adam Brody
- The film’s title comes from the song of the same name by Hole (Courtney Love’s band)
Nikolai: I think it’s important to reach out to our fans in the sh*tty areas, too.
Chip: I can take care of myself. I’ve been using the Bowflex.
Needy: Jennifer’s evil.
Chip: I know.
Needy: No, I mean, she’s actually evil. Not high school evil.
Needy: I thought you only murdered boys.
Jennifer: I go both ways.
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- Alpha Dog