Reviewers are divided on whether Jennifer's Body is a clever satire of friendships between teen girls or like a "thing a cat might bury in a litter box and still keep building the covering because the stench can't be smothered."
Jennifer's Body, which opens today, is a comedic horror film about Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), the meanest, prettiest, most popular girl in Devil's Kettle, Minnesota, and Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried), her smart, sensible, and mousy best friend since childhood. Jennifer, who has always had a somewhat-abusive relationship with Needy, drags her to local roadhouse to see an obnoxious emo band called Low Shoulder. When a freak fire destroys the bar Jennifer and Needy manage to escape and the band's lead singer (Adam Brody) offers Jennifer a ride home. Needy never sees Jennifer alive again, as she's transformed into a succubus, a form of zombie/vampire, when the band's satanic virgin sacrifice goes awry. Jennifer returns to feast on innocent high school boys and Needy has to defend their male classmates, including her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).
Earlier, we presented a few reasons to love Jennifer's Body, but critics couldn't reach a consensus on anything about the film. While some saw it as a smart and funny commentary on the angst surrounding being a teen girl and the complicated nature of female friendships, others singled out the same points to argue that the film is a "spectacular disaster." There aren't as many Juno-esque quips like "honest to blog" in Diablo Cody's screenplay, which may be good or bad depending on your opinion of Diablo Cody. Some said Megan Fox's acting was horrible, but others found her bland affect appropriate for a demonic mean girl. Reviewers expecting a straight horror movie were disappointed by the film's lack of gore, but other reviews said the film doesn't really fit into either the horror or comedy genres. Many critics described the film as a feminist take on the horror movie, but another critic praised it for refusing "to be read as a feminist revenge story." Below, we take a look at what reviewers are saying about the film, but as it deals with several topics it seems no one can agree on, including Diablo Cody, Megan Fox, feminism, and the difficulties of being a young woman, you may have to judge Jennifer's Body for yourself.
To enter into the spirit of Jennifer's Body, you have to let go of your preconceived notions of Diablo Cody, whether for good or ill. If you're looking for the gentle indie spirit of Juno, you'll be disappointed-this isn't a world in which abortion protesters make their case with twee observations about baby fingernails, and getting pregnant at 15 is nothing a Moldy Peaches song can't cure. Life at Devil's Kettle High is nasty, brutish, and short, especially for Jennifer's male victims (who aren't necessarily sexist jerks-one of the movie's strengths is its refusal to be read as a straight-up feminist revenge story). If, on the other hand, Juno's preciousness made you gag, you shouldn't write off Jennifer's Body, either. True, Cody's mania for catchphrases hasn't faded-Needy and Jennifer greet each other with rhymed putdowns along the lines of "Where's it at, Monistat?"-but she's learning to channel the more egregious lingo into the mouths of characters who might actually talk that way. In Jennifer's Body, the principal perpetrator of Codyisms is Jennifer herself, which makes perfect sense. Proving one's social worth by spouting insider slang is a mark of insecurity, and for all her sexual bravado, Jennifer is nothing if not insecure. Megan Fox, whose previous roles called on little more than her ability to successfully straddle a motorcycle, nails this tricky role. She does more than look sensational-she shows us what it feels like to be a sensational-looking young woman and to wield that as your only power. Fox seems to understand the key gambit of Cody's script: Her character is less a teenage girl turned monster than an exploration of the monster that lurks inside every teenage girl.
It's easy to go on like this, but I'd be missing something. There is within Diablo Cody the soul of an artist, and her screenplay brings to this material a certain edge, a kind of gleeful relish, that's uncompromising. This isn't your assembly-line teen horror thriller. The portraits of Jennifer and Needy are a little too knowing, the dialogue is a little too off-center, the developments are a little too quirky. After you've seen enough teen thrillers, you begin to appreciate these distinctions. Let's put it this way: I'd rather see Jennifer's Body again than Twilight.
Jennifer's Body, a bloody high school demonic-possession serial-killer comedy written by Diablo Cody, directed by Karyn Kusama and starring Megan Fox in the title role, is an unholy mess. I mean that as a compliment. Yes, the movie's gory set pieces are executed with more carnivorous glee than formal discipline, and its story is as full of holes as some of its disemboweled victims. But coherence has never been a significant criterion for horror movies. If it were, we could forget about Dario Argento and Brian De Palma, half of Hitchcock and most of the entries in the Friday the 13th series. And though it is too soon to install Jennifer's Body in that blood-soaked pantheon, the movie deserves - and is likely to win - a devoted cult following, despite its flaws.
These are mitigated by a sensibility that mixes playful pop-culture ingenuity with a healthy shot of feminist anger. Ms. Cody and Ms. Kusama take up a theme shared by slasher films and teenage comedies - that queasy, panicky fascination with female sexuality that we all know and sublimate - and turn it inside out. This is not a simple reversal of perspective; the girl's point of view has frequently been explored in both maniac-on-the-loose thrillers and homeroom-to-prom-night romantic comedies. Jennifer's Body goes further, taking the complication and confusion of being a young woman as its central problem and operating principle, the soil from which it harvests a tangle of unruly metaphors, mixed emotions, crazy jokes and ambivalent insights.
Jennifer's Body is also uncommonly fearless when it delves into the subject of teen sex. When the baby-faced Needy and the even younger-looking Chip get together for a stay-at-home date and start talking about condoms and lubrication, the conversation comes as a shock, because movies have traditionally taught us that only the "bad'' girls have sex when they're 16. The good ones — those who, like Needy, do their homework and are responsible — never slide past first base.
Jennifer's Bodyisn't particularly scary: Kusama feints at frightening her audience early on, but her heart just isn't in it, and she eventually loses interest. And the movie's humor is either too stale (Wikipedia gags were funny when we first heard them on The Office two seasons ago) or too dark and scalding for laughter. And some jokes, such as an ill-conceived riff on 9/11, stick out for their offensiveness.
The film will most disappoint those who hoped Juno had introduced a writer with a fresh point of view about young people in today's world. Horror fans, however, will get a kick out of this absurd yarn of a high-school hottie-turned-psycho cannibal, who feasts on all those boys dying to get into her pants. And there is enough of those arch, self-conscious comic lines to remind us this is a Cody screenplay.
Jennifer's Bodyis not as hot as you hope it would be. Written by the talented Diablo Cody, whose way with words - particularly teenspeak - was a revelation in Juno, Jennifer's Body tries hard to be cool, gross and nasty but feels forced and misses the mark... much of the humor and the scares fall short. Jennifer's Body generally follows the conventions of a teen horror tale, interspersed with some lackluster, wannabe edgy humor.
While not exactly lifeless, Jennifer's Body sure could be fresher. Even with Megan Fox ideally cast as a sharp-fanged succubus with a lusty appetite for young male (and sometimes female) flesh, this high school horror romp tackles its bad-girl-gone-really-bad premise with eye-rolling obviousness and, fatally, a near-total absence of real scares. Fox Atomic item will stir interest as a post-Juno outing for scribe Diablo Cody, whose whippersnapper sensibility can be heard in the occasional snatches of self-consciously clever dialogue. But even auds primed to see guts and other exposed body parts will be disappointed by a Body less bawdy than advertised.
The haters are already out in force for this one, storming the nation's multiplexes with torches if their blogs are to be believed. Honestly, the movie's not that terrible. That doesn't mean it's very good, though. Jennifer's Body falls into the dispiriting category of dumb movies made by smart people, in this case a glibly clever writer and a talented director who think a few wisecracks are enough to subvert the teen horror genre.
Two things keep Jennifer's Body from clicking: The script isn't nearly as wonderful as it thinks it is, and Fox has the personality of a lukewarm Thermos. (A third: Kusama's a solid director but not the wild-and-woolly stylist this project probably needs.) Cody tries to rocket her dialogue along at Juno pace, but sardonic glibness is hard to pull off when characters are going screaming to their deaths - she should have either eased up on the gas or revved through to the far side of bad taste. Worse, the writer's patented Cody-isms ("freaktarded,'' "move on-dot-org'') seem pushy and stale this time out.
Her second film script, for the excruciating teen horror-comedy Jennifer's Body, doubles down on the slangy Cody-isms, serving as a fresh reminder that the house of Juno wasn't built on a foundation of homeskillets and honest-to-blogs. It was at heart an affecting story about a pregnant teenager sorting through some very difficult decisions and trying to do the right thing; her colorfully sarcastic one-liners worked, in part, because she deployed them as a kind of defense mechanism. By contrast, Jennifer's Body is clever for its own sake, a showy piece of writing that doesn't have that all-important ballast of sincerity. This time, Cody will stop a scene cold for the chance to shoehorn "move on dot org" into a sentence. Another major problem: Neither Megan Fox nor Amanda Seyfried can handle the wordplay like Ellen Page did. As they play best friends on opposite sides of the popularity divide, Fox rips into her line-readings with lusty overconfidence, while Seyfried timidly pushes them across, as if they were written in a second language.
Jennifer's Body mixes, matches, and crosses three popular genres: horror, comedy, and teen angst. Unfortunately, it fails at all of them - and "fails" might be too kind a term. This movie is a spectacular disaster, the kind of thing a cat might bury in a litter box and still keep building the covering because the stench can't be smothered. There are so many things wrong with this motion picture that it might be easier to pinpoint the few elements that are right. The film is the product of the "girl power" team of director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) and writer Diablo Cody (Juno). Neither has previously dabbled in horror and, based on the evidence at hand in Jennifer's Body, neither should be allowed near it again. Kusama comes across as a filmmaker who is playing at making an exploitation flick without having a good understanding of what the elements are and how they mesh. The tone is off throughout, like a piece of music played in the wrong key. The notes are there but the sound is dissonant. Drinking massive amounts of coffee before seeing Jennifer's Body might make it more bearable since frequent trips to the bathroom will break up the monotony.
If Jennifer's Body were either entertaining or ultimately had a point, it would have a good enough reason for existing. Even if its star, the bodaciously built Megan Fox, were sexy in anything but a plastic way, you could make an argument for it as gore-fest eye candy. But Jennifer's Body — directed by Karyn Kusama, from a script by Diablo Cody — is so contemptuous toward its own characters, and its audience, that it chokes off any visceral thrills it might have offered. The movie substitutes calculation for brains, and the filmmakers seem to think we'll all be too stupid to notice. I can't remember the last time I saw such a naked display of opportunism and exploitation at the movies — and when I use the word "exploitation," I don't mean the good, old-fashioned grindhouse kind, but the "Let's make a buck by pretending to be transgressive" kind, the kind that reallymakes you feel dirty.
Watching two women kiss, when it's done right, is a glorious thing... But a kissing scene can also be a cheap attempt to titillate the audience, particularly when it has no real context or reason for being — it doesn't matter if there's a man or a woman behind the camera. Needy is certainly in thrall to Jennifer, possibly sexually. But Jennifer treats Needy so badly, it's impossible to understand how these two women could be friends, other than out of habit (they've been pals since childhood). And as Jennifer, Fox's mannequin eyes are lifeless; they betray an attraction to no one — there's no sex in her sexiness. The kiss comes from nowhere and leads to nothing. Its calculated eroticism is enough to make you long for the tyranny of the male gaze.
Earlier: 6 Reasons To Love Jennifer's Body