Jennifer's Body (2009)
Starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Jennifer's Body comes loaded with a pretty big freight of expectation. It's Diablo Cody's first script since her Oscar winning Juno, for one thing, and for another, it's pneumatic robot-bait starlet Megan Fox's first high-profile role outside the Transformers films which demanded of her only the ability to look sweaty, hit her mark, and have really impressive bone structure.
Is Cody's slang-laced pop culture patois going to get tiring? Is Megan Fox able to ... express emotions? Director Karyn Kusama's film has as much or more cinematic interest as a significant milestone early in the careers of women like Cody and Fox, who seem possibly preordained, blessed and golden, to have enormous impact on Hollywood filmmaking, as it does interest for a dude who likes scary movies, you know, with demons and junk.
Which is good because the film itself isn't that great. Fox plays the titular Jennifer, who through some ham-handed Satan worshipin' by a local mascara'd indie band finds herself possessed by a succubus-like demon. Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried, is the Betty to Fox's murderous Veronica and watches helplessly as her best friend cuts a swath through their town's population of horny teenage boys. It's an odd amalgam that doesn't quite hang together in any satisfying, compelling way while still boasting storytelling elements that are miles more interesting and sophisticated than the muddy average of all the film's scenes. It's poorly paced and never scary, but there are a handful or three scenes that approach the eeriness of, well, if not The Shining, then maybe the pretty eerie Johnathan Glazer directed video for "Karmacoma" by Massive Attack that was inspired by The Shining.
And surprisingly, it's not Cody's famously attention-grabbing oddball dialogue that sucks the spookiness out of some of what should be the scary scenes in the film, it's that the film has pinned to its sleeve half of the accoutrements of a horror film - the setup, the demon, the small town, the spooky rotten set-dec - without supporting them with any real careful adhesion to the more technical traditions of the genre. There are no real HOLY SHIT jump-scare moments in the film, no shadows-of-feet-under-the-closet-door quiet moments to build tension. It says it's a horror film, but it's not.
Which is a shame, because underneath all of the stuff that doesn't quite work is a film about teenage girl best friends that is spectacular. The relationship between Needy and Jennifer rings totally true, even as it descends into bloody mayhem, and is by far the most compelling thing in the film. This is down to Cody's script. Unlike in her first film Juno, where everyone seems to live in a hyper-witty pop-culture minutiae literate alt-universe with some language that's somehow related to English, Cody in the script for Jennifer's Body confines most of her famous argot to the two teen best-friend girls. It's a "secret language" filled with in-jokes and very real-seeming tics and hiccups that annoy the rest of the characters in the film. It's not just fun and funny and Cody/Tarantinoish, it's real solid character work, and it makes their friendship the best bit in the film. It's good enough, and rare enough a thing to see done (as most teen girl movies are made for the tween demo, seemingly, brainless where Jennifer's Body, at least, is not) that I'd recommend the film despite the failure of its central stated goal: being scary.
The performances are great: Fox is legitimately good as the Demon Babe, consistently hitting the rightish note in a role that would be really easy to blow up into pantomime sex-bot ridiculousness. On the meta-level, coming off as she was at the time her star-if-not-making-then-beginning-to-make turn in Transformers, it's nice to see Fox take a role that will ultimately be overshadowed by her co-star's. Jennifer's Body is not going to do much for Fox's career, but it should do tons for Amanda Seyfried's. It's her movie entirely, from start to finish, and it's odd but not unexpected that, from looking at the film's promo material, you'd never know she was in the film. Cody will go on, Seyfried and Fox will go on, they'll all have interesting full careers, and their collaboration will go down as a film whose quirky combo of genres and styles produced a handful of standout moments and scenes but ultimately never gelled.
3 out of 5
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