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6 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Jennifer's Body
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by Peter Sobczynski

1 stars

One of the true pleasures in the life of a committed moviegoer is the sensation that occurs when you walk into a film featuring the work of a complete unknown and walk out of it a couple of hours later realizing that you have just witnessed the birth of a major new talent. For many of us, just such a thing happened a couple of years ago with the release of “Juno,” the hilarious and touching tale about an acerbic pregnant teenager slowly discovering that she isn’t as wise beyond her years as she thinks she is that made screenwriter Diablo Cody into perhaps the most instantly recognizable and argument-inspiring ink-stained wretch to come along since Quentin Tarantino. On the other hand, one of the most depressing experiences in the life of a committed moviegoer is the sensation when you walk into a film anticipating the latest work from someone that you greatly admire and walk out of it a couple of hours later realizing that the person that you have so venerated is just as capable of making complete crap as all the other hacks. For many of us, just such thing is about to happen this weekend with the release of “Jennifer’s Body,” a disastrously dismal horror-comedy that marks Diablo Cody’s follow-up to the triumph of “Juno.” Granted, it would be hard for anyone to replicate the acclaim that she received for her debut but I can’t imagine even the most forgiving of her fans being willing to accept this effort, a bag of goods that is so shabby that if it had been written by anyone else, it probably would have landed squarely in the direct-to-video trenches and even there, it would have suffered in comparison to its competitors.

Set in Devil’s Kettle, a filthy and depressing burg known primarily for a waterfall where all the water enters a mysterious whirlpool and never seems to emerge anywhere, the film stars Megan Fox as Jennifer, a high school sexpot who fills out her tight outfits with equal parts brazen bravado and a desire to escape her small-town existence for the bright lights of “The City” (though the fact that she is in Minnesota suggests that she is in for a cruel disappointment even if she does make it to “The City”), and Amanda Seyfried as Needy, a sweet-but-nerdy girl who has been Jennifer’s best friend (and occasional doormat) since they were little, a relationship that presumably has lasted so long because it provides Jennifer with someone to boss around in order to mask her own insecurities and Needy someone to subliminally crush on despite the presence of her nice-guy boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons). One fateful night, Jennifer drags Needy out to a local roadhouse to see an appearance by a struggling indie rock band led by the slightly sinister Nikolai (Adam Brody) and during the show, a deadly fire erupts that the two barely escape from with their lives. Woozy from the smoke films, Jennifer accepts a ride from the band in their van and leaves Needy behind. Later that night at home, Needy is visited by a blood-soaked Jennifer who proceeds to vomit a bizarre tar-like substance all over the floor before staggering out into the darkness.

The next day, however, not only does Jennifer show up at school, she is snarkier and more salon-perfect than ever Of course, no mere foundation garment alone could trigger such a change and before long, we discover Jennifer’s secret when she lures one of the jocks into the woods behind the school for a romp that quickly goes bad for him when she suddenly and gruesomely eviscerates him with a set of extra-pointy teeth. For the next few weeks, the town is in the glare of the media spotlight as the result of the twin tragedies while that hideous band becomes an overnight sensation as the result of rumors of their alleged heroics. After a month goes by, Jennifer begins looking somewhat worse for wear (at least by her standards) but the day after she unexpectedly goes out on a date with one of the school’s Goth types, she comes back cheerful and refreshed while he turns up without any innards. Beginning to suspect that something is up, Needy goes to do some research (“paranormal” research) in the school library and makes some shocking discoveries that Jennifer cheerfully confirms and elaborates on in a sequence that somehow manages to combine plot exposition and Sapphic smooching in a way that might have done Russ Meyer proud (provided that he was allowed to bring in his big gun writer for a quick polish). In moves that will surprise no one, Jennifer sets her sights on Chip (mostly because she can), Needy vows to stop her at all costs (mostly because the movie will end 30 minutes earlier if she doesn’t) and the whole thing comes to a head at prom (mostly because it makes a little more sense than trying to figure out a way to end things with a courtroom scene).

Successfully blending horror and comedy is an extraordinarily difficult thing for any film to pull off--too much comedy can destroy the suspense and too much blood and violence can do equal damage to the humor--and only a few films have really managed to pull it off. (John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London,” which coincidentally hits DVD and Blu-ray this week, is a perfect example of a film that did an excellent job of maintaining the proper balance between the two tones.) You know this, I know this and you can be sure that someone as savvy from a pop-cultural perspective as Diablo Cody knows this as well. Therefore, I went into “Jennifer’s Body” assuming that Cody had figured out a way of pulling off the combination using the distinctive voice that she cultivated in “Juno.” Not only has she failed to pull that trick off, her screenplay--which is presumably the film’s major draw outside of Fox’s cleavage--is actually the worst thing about the entire enterprise and is such an unpleasant and borderline misogynistic mess that it is impossible to understand what she was going for in the first place. As a horror film, it stinks because it is utterly devoid of scares, tension or creative gruesomeness. As a comedy, it is equally bad because the broad jokes aren’t very funny, the attempts to satirize mean girl behavior and the conventions of dumb horror movies fall flat because she offers no real insights into either and Cody’s arch dialogue, which worked so well in “Juno” for the most part because she created characters that you believed actually spoke like that, comes across so badly this time around (instead of calling someone jealous, they are referred to as being “lime-green Jell-O”) that they feel like the efforts of someone trying and failing to sound like Diablo Cody. Even the much-publicized makeout scene between Fox and Seyfried falls flat because it is dropped in so randomly and without any real connection to the story that it feels like the kind of one-shot gimmick utilized by struggling TV shows hoping for a momentary boost in the ratings. There are a couple of flashes of the wit found in “Juno” here and there--I enjoyed the strange deconstruction of “Aquamarine” and the way that the story pretty much confirms what everyone thinks of all the crappy indie bands that have emerged in the last few years--but for the most part, the screenplay feels like someone channel-hopping back and forth between “Heathers” and “Species” and transcribing the experience without ever managing to hit upon any of the good parts.

While Cody is certainly going to be taken the hardest hits for the failures of “Jennifer’s Body,” there is plenty of blame to spread around. The film was directed by Karyn Kusama, who made a Cody-like splash with her 2000 debut film “Girlfight” and then squandered nearly all the good will that she accumulated from that film by following it up with “Aeon Flux,” the kind of all-out disaster that usually winds up killing a career or two. However, even those inclined to give Kusama the benefit of the doubt after that one based on their fondness for “Girlfight” may find themselves changing their tune after seeing her work here. The entire film is flat and graceless from start to finish and she demonstrates absolutely no flair for comic timing (all the dialogue-driven scenes feel like rehearsal footage), for building suspense and tension or even for startling viewers by having things suddenly jump out at them. Likewise, the performances are pretty ineffectual too, though I suppose that it says a lot about the lack of quality of the film as a whole when I report that the increasingly intolerable Megan Fox is not the worst thing about it. She has the swaggering bitchiness and the surface-level sexuality of her character down pat--unfortunately, whenever she opens her mouth, it becomes painfully clear that she lacks any trace of the kind of comedic timing and sensibility that are usually requirements for anyone signing on for a comedy. Amanda Seyfried is a little better but her character is such a bore that it is hard to work up much of a rooting interest for her either. In fact, when you consider that Seyfried has both amazing looks (which are unsuccessfully hidden beneath extra-clunky glasses) and comic timing (as demonstrated in “Mean Girls”), you may find yourself wondering why she wasn’t cast as Jennifer or, barring that, why Cody and Kusama didn’t change things up a bit and have her character go through the transformation while her friend tries to stop her rampage in order to protect the town and her own social standing. As for the others, the only performer who makes any sort of impression is the increasingly invaluable J.K. Simmons as who appears to be the only member of the high school faculty--he scores actual laughs every time he appears but that is more because he is one of those people who can sell even the weakest screenplays and believe me, this film allows him ample room to demonstrate that particular talent.

Although “Jennifer’s Body” is pretty much a train wreck from beginning to end, its total uselessness does not take anything away from my fondness for “Juno” or my belief that Diablo Cody is an enormously gifted writer. My guess is that this particular screenplay was written long before “Juno” when she was still learning her craft, stuck in a drawer when it was completed and yanked out again when she realized that it was now worth a lot of money in the wake of her newfound fame. Unfortunately, while spending time in Diablo Cody’s drawers may sound fun in theory, it did this screenplay no visible good and the result is one of the year’s biggest disappointments. In fact, the only good thing about it is that it is so bad that it will pretty much force Cody to sit down and write something that will prove to everyone, not just the “Juno” naysayers, that her earlier success was no mere fluke and that this was just a mere and unfortunate aberration that will hopefully be soon forgotten.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18291&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/18/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/12/18 Mark Louis Baumgart A fun little time-killer with two pretty leads. I was entertained and not bored. 4 stars
9/14/17 morris campbell it sux dont watch it 1 stars
6/01/11 art IT HAD OVERTONES OF GINGER SNAPS,but it was a TREAT REGARDLESS!,watch this flick! 4 stars
5/09/11 Shaun A So bad it's good. 3 stars
6/01/10 art this reminds me of 1987's HELLO MARY LOU PROM NIGHT 2, but regardless THIS WAS GREAT! 4 stars
1/13/10 art A BIZZARE FABLE!,to say the least! 3 stars
12/16/09 Lenny Zane Best post-MEAN GIRLS performance by any member of MEAN GIRLS Cast. 5 stars
11/20/09 Jessica Contrary to many people, I think the movie is quite good and very interesting. 5 stars
11/14/09 DK A notch down from "Juno", but entertaining none the less. Fox and Seyfried are impressive 3 stars
11/06/09 Tiffany Thunderhurst Best horror film since EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. Amanda Seyfried is superb! 5 stars
9/27/09 Doogin Not a shred of talent on display from any of the people involved... Cody is a hack. 1 stars
9/25/09 Clare The unearned condescention oozing form your review is disturbing. Man, did you ever miss it 4 stars
9/24/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Missed many chances to entertain. She's evil... but just high school evil. 2 stars
9/21/09 www.wrightcapital.biz I worry, somewhat, that male designers design more for men, and that perhaps female designe 4 stars
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  18-Sep-2009 (R)
  DVD: 29-Dec-2009


  DVD: 29-Dec-2009

Directed by
  Karyn Kusama

Written by
  Diablo Cody

  Megan Fox
  Amanda Seyfried
  Johnny Simmons
  Adam Brody
  J.K. Simmons
  Amy Sedaris

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