To Hollywood’s credit, there’ve been a lot of female-focused thriller/horror films coming out lately. It’s almost as if production studios in La-La Land have suddenly realized there’s a feminine demographic they could cater to/exploit. Unfortunately for the ladies, studios still think that they can just throw anything at audiences and get away with it, which is why so many of the recent “girl power”-type films have been lousy.
The new horror/comedy Jennifer’s Body, written by Diablo Cody (instantly famous for penning the brilliant Juno) and directed by Karyn Kusama (AEon Flux and Girlfight, the latter of which bestowed upon the world the dubious gift of Michelle Rodriguez) is without a doubt the best of the bunch to come along thus far, although given its surprisingly uneven narrative, that’s not saying much.
First off, for those of you who are wondering: yes, Kusama kept in the scene where the two leads Jennifer (Megan Fox) and her oddly named best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) share a “controversial” lesbian kiss. It’s in close-up, it’s almost two minutes long, and for those who are attracted to such, it’s a very satisfying scene. Not since Susan Sarandon got it on with Catherine Deneuve in 1983’s The Hunger have two women looked so good together. Sorry to spoil it for you though,Â Fox and SeyfriedÂ onlyÂ almost end up in bed together.
Jennifer is the hottest girl in high school in the tiny town of Devil’s Kettle. Although most boys want her and most girls want to be like her, she’s best friends with Needy, an ultra non-cliquey girl who’s friends with many of the social outcasts otherwise overlooked. AlthoughÂ best friends since kindergarten, Needy lives up to her name, and is basically a hanger-on for Jennifer, who heads to dive bars and is able to get alcohol just by shakingÂ the right parts of her body at the bartender. On one night whenÂ Needy ditches her nice-guy boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) to hang with Jennifer, the two girls head to the local watering hole to see Low Shoulder, a low-rent indie band trying to make their way in the business.Â When a fire breaks out in the bar, spreading rapidly and killing almost everyone but the two girls and the band,Â a dazed Jennifer agrees to head out with the band in their van, over Needy’s protests. Later on, when Jennifer appears in Needy’s houseÂ covered in blood and spitting up black bile, Needy realizes something is wrong, but just can’t put her finger on it. It isn’t until the eviscerated bodies of boys from their school start turning up–boys who Jennifer usually wouldn’t show any interest in, but with whomÂ she was last seen–that Needy comes to find that herÂ BFF is possessed by aÂ soul-devouring demon.
Aside from creating The United States of Tara for TV, Jennifer’s Body is only the second feature Cody has written. Like all in Hollywood who achieve instant success with a breakout hit like Juno, Cody’s writing skill has been praised consistently. However, Hollywood revels in failure as much as success, and it’s unlikely that she is aware of how far she has to fall, and how quickly it can happen. Jennifer’s Body is definitely a step down in terms of writing, to some degree, as the character of Needy is simply a lower-rent copy of Juno MacGuff, complete with “quirky” dialogue to make her sound smarter and more worldly than any teen her age could be. Oddly enough, while the writing for the secondary characters like Chip and band leader/scuzzball Nikolai (Adam Brody) is pretty much on the mark, Cody’s dialogue for both Jennifer and Needy tends to be uneven, swinging like a pendulum between believable and unintentionally laughable in parts where the dialogue needs to be taken seriously.
Fortunately for the film, the cast is well chosen. Although Megan Fox (Hope & Faith, The Help) has done a ton of TV work and is famous for providing eye candy in both Transformers movies, Jennifer’s Body is her first time headlining a film on her own, and she does her best to prove she’s up to the task. Of course, her character is not much more than a shallow cheerleader, and Fox does the best with what she’s given…but audiences may have to wait until next year’s Jonah Hex (where she’ll share screen time with the formidable Josh Brolin) to see if she can truly act. Seyfried (Mama Mia!, Veronica Mars), on the other hand, handles the Juno ripoff character Needy (what parent in their right mind would name a child that?) with a natural aplomb, helping us to empathize with her character and keeping her believably grounded at all times, in spite of the often inane dialogue that comes out of her mouth. The always excellent J.K. Simmons (Post Grad, Burn After Reading) puts in an odd cameo as Mr. Wroblewski, the claw-hooked and presumably only teacher at the high school. Fan favorite Kyle Gallner (The Shield, The Haunting in Connecticut) puts in a small appearance as a goth boy Jennifer sets her sights on, and Johnny Simmons manages to snatch his career from the gaping cesspool that was The Spirit to give a very balanced performance as the likable Chip.
Jennifer’s Body doesn’t suffer from most of the standard horror movie cliches; in fact, under Kusama’s able direction, theÂ film makes fun of several of them, even though some of the jump moments are fairly predictable. Although this is only Kusama’s third feature film, she has a capable grip on the material. The main problem is that the movie’s own scriptwriter is working against it. Diablo Cody seems more concerned with how many clever snippets of dialogue sheÂ canÂ put into her characters’ mouths,Â regardless of whether real teens would ever say such things, as well as being sure to put as many cultural references as possible…perhaps in an effort forÂ future film buffs to be able to turn on their TVs late at night and catch Jennifer’s Body post-openingÂ scenes, and be able to say “Ah, that witty catchphrase-filled dialogue! Now that’s a Diablo Cody film!” TheÂ central problem with this, however, is that people can say such things about writer/directorsÂ like Tarantino, whose dialogue leaps off the page and screen and comes at you like a rabid ferret in heat. Cody isn’t quite at that stage yet; only when her upcoming Girly Style comes out willÂ we be able to see ifÂ the brilliance of Juno was just a fluke.
Although Cody confuses the powers of a demon with those of a vampire at one point,Â asÂ some action plays out over the end credits, the film comes full circle as a narrative andÂ remains satisfying overall, at least in that regard. So while not altogether perfect–thanks to its own writer–the capable direction andÂ fairly solid cast helps to make Jennifer’s Body into an entertaining distraction.