Saturday, September 19, 2009

Review: Jennifer's Body

I went to see Jennifer’s Body on Friday night predisposed both to love and hate it.  Written by Diablo Cody, the same woman who wrote Juno, I was hoping for some original, realistic female characters, a la Ellen Page.  At the same time I was skeptical, to say the least, about the decision to cast Megan Fox – an actress best known for her one-dimensional performance in Transformers – in a leading role.  And finally, wildly differing reviews gave me even less an idea of what to expect, so I went to the theater hoping for the best and prepared for the worst.

In short, I don’t think this movie is either.  It’s certainly not the genre-breaking, earth-shattering piece de resistance that Diablo Cody was probably going for, but it’s also not nearly the piece of trash some critics are purporting it to be.  It’s a witty, dark, and sometimes flawed take on the horror genre, female friendships, and high school drama. 

Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Anita (or “Needy,” played by Amanda Seyfried) are best friends, but it’s clear from the beginning that it’s an abusive friendship.  Needy is a good-girl geek, while Jennifer is the hottest girl in school.  Jennifer keeps Needy around to make herself feel better, because despite being the most lusted-after girl in Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota, Jennifer is also deeply insecure.  It’s a fairly common situation among teenaged girls, but it all gets much more complicated when Jennifer is sacrificed to Satan by a guyliner-wearing emo band, fronted hilariously by Adam Brody.  She then becomes a boy-eating succubus and an even less appealing best friend to Needy.

Toxic female friendship is a fantastic idea for a horror movie, if you ask me, and director Karyn Kusama does a good job giving the film a campy, self-conscious vibe.  However, while at times Jennifer’s Body is deliciously over the top, the overall tone of the movie isn’t consistent.  It seems as though Kusama wasn’t entirely sure if she wanted this to be darkly funny or scary, a satire on horror film or an actual horror film – and it’s simply not scary enough to be pure horror.  There are some highly creepy moments, but it’s devoid of any truly scary scenes.  I personally wish Kusama had gone all out and made it a completely campy flick, because I think it had the potential to be the next Heathers, showing once and for all that “Hell is a teenage girl.”  But sadly, it doesn’t quite go there.

Which brings me to my next point: the dialogue.  Or rather, the Cody-isms.  In Heathers, the outlandish slang fit seamlessly into the script and was wielded perfectly by the actors.  Phrases like “What’s your damage?” and “Lick it up!” became part of a cult culture.  In Cody’s first script, Juno, “Honest to blog?” and the constant use of the word “vadge” seemed timely, if a little overdone.  However, the slang in Jennifer’s Body sticks out in every occurrence and is more of a distraction than anything else.  Jennifer says “Jell-O” instead of jealous, she advises Needy to “Move-on dot org,” and Needy’s boyfriend uses the word “dilhole” in earnest.  If that’s how adults think kids are talking these days, they’re quite mistaken.  If, on the other hand, Cody was simply trying to inject her trademark witticisms into the script, I’d say the effort was a little heavy-handed.  Furthermore, the actors themselves don’t seem comfortable with much of the dialogue, making many conversations stilted and unrealistic.

The actors aren’t all impressive, either.  Megan Fox isn’t bad, but she does what she’s told and not a bit more.  She doesn’t bring much more than a surface sexiness to the character of Jennifer, and her insecurity (an important part of her character and the plot) isn’t adequately conveyed until almost the very end of the entire movie.  Amanda Seyfried doesn’t shine like she has in past roles (though it seems likely that the blame lies more with the director than with Seyfried), but does a better job of playing a multifaceted character.

Despite all of my complaints, though, there are so many wonderful things about Jennifer’s Body.  Cody plays with stereotypical female tropes like the “good girl” and “bad girl” in ways that are too rarely explored in film.  Just to have a female screenwriter writing interesting, atypical parts for women is heartening.  Teen sexuality is also looked at in a more realistic, multi-layered way; shockingly enough, “good girls” do have sex, and in this horror movie a woman doesn’t have to be a virgin to survive to the end.  It’s original and quirky, and funny.

If you liked Drag Me to Hell or Teeth, I’d say definitely go see this.  It’s not quite as smart or clever as those movies, but I think it’s worth a look.

Final Rating (out of 5):

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