Jennifer’s Body arrives not as simply a tongue-through-cheek horror film aimed at enticing the teen crowd, but also loaded with a hat-trick of questions: 1) Is Diablo Cody (writer of Juno and Showtime’s United States of Tara) a 2-hit wonder? 2) Does Megan Fox have an acting career beyond Transformers? and 3) Is the movie any good? The answer: probably not, kind of and not really.
In move-geek circles, a lot’s been made of the fact Oscar Winning screenwriter Diablo Cody scripted Jennifer’s Body. With her penchant for witty zing as evidenced wholesale in the loved/hated Juno, there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether Cody would return in form. In the sense of witty zing, she does, delivering the goods with salty gusto and a heart set on high school retribution and comeuppance. But one-liners and pop-culture references can only take you so far and the story here, while hinting at some deeper themes and buoyed by poppy irreverence, doesn’t quite know where to go.
Jennifer’s Body begins with a sarcastically knowing voice over from the unsubtly named Needy (Amanda Seyfried), a mousy booknerd who we find, through a mildly explained homo-erotic connection, is BFF (Best Friend Forever, or “BIFF”) with Jennifer (Megan Fox). Jennifer, of course, is the chesty, wet-lipped, tongue lolling hottie of the school who comes off as a carbon copy of how you’d expect Megan Fox to act in real life. They’re best friends in love, but they both like boys. In the mean time, Needy is content as the plain Jane friend every hot girl totes around as built-in ego booster, while Jennifer manipulates her way through the ranks of fellas proving, yet again, substance is secondary, because hot girls always get what they want. Jennifer’s sexual stratagem and use of her self-titled “smart bombs” (aka-boobies) eventually backfire as she becomes an evil demon who finds power and energy in ruthlessly seducing and devouring the boys at her school. If you’re sensing a metaphor in there somewhere, you’d be right.
Jennifer’s Body hints at stronger themes than the high school horror ride existing on its surface. Who didn’t know the girl who sadly defined herself by the boys she dated? Here, those tables are turned as the boys confidence building power is literally ripped from them in gouts of blood and grue, giving Jennifer the power as she makes decisions of life, death and what shade of lip gloss to wear. And while this might be confused as some girl-power motif, when it all boils down to it, Jennifer is still dependent on boys. There’s also a dead-end theme of hyper-close female friendship and its hand-holding flirtation with lesbianism, though it’s cheaply explored with nothing more than a gratuitous and non-contributing make-out scene that goes to prove nothing more than an idea to get male butts in seats.
As we were leaving the screening, Andy made a comment that gave the film some perspective: “I wasn’t sure about what kind of movie this was, but when I realized it was just pop culture trash, I enjoyed it for that.” I understand the perspective, which goes a long way toward helping enjoy the movie, but there’s also the previously mentioned undercurrents that suggest Jennifer’s Body isn’t simply that. There’s something Diablo Cody is trying to say about girls, their high school insecurities, their dependence on boys as a defining device and the catalytic hell of high school, but it’s sabotaged by her insistence on pop culture jabs and clever, wink wink dialogue at every turn. And while a more light-hearted tone might have resulted in a more cohesive movie, Jennifer’s Body also goes to very dark and horrific places.
When director Karyn Kusama (who also helmed the meaningful indie Girl Fight) lingers on shattered parents who are imploding with grief or includes heavy images of people screaming as they’re burned or sacrificed alive, that means something. There’s weight to it. Quickly injecting those scenes with a pop-culture joke or zesty quip shatters the tone and gives it a sense of schizophrenia that’s more mean-spirited than darkly comedic. As a result, Jennifer’s Body can’t seem to find what it wants to be. A self-referential jerk-fest? A horror? A teen girl allegory? Jennifer’s Body probably wants to be all three, but it requires a more deft interweaving than what’s on display here.
As for Megan Fox, well… Megan Fox remains a three-note Megan Fox (smile, cry, look sexy), especially when paired with the nuanced Amanda Seyfried. To put it in perspective, when a heavy-hitter like Roger Ebert hails Fox’s performance by saying she “plays the role straight” and “looks good in a blood-drenched dress and scraggly hair”, that’s simply defaulting to the usual bread and butter. Fox is at a zero sum game here– one where she doesn’t embarrass herself, but doesn’t improve on her personae either.
In fairness, Jennifer’s Body is certainly better than any expectation I held for it, but it’s elevated only by the spunky–yet dangerously overused– insistence on pop-culture dialogue. When you look past these winking attempts at back-patting accolades, there’s little more than listless attempts at what could have been substance.