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Jennifer's Body

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 09/18/09 05:01:24

"An all-around disappointment (and no Fox doesn't factor into the equation)."
3 stars (Just Average)

"Jennifer's Body," Diablo Cody’s follow-up to the Academy Award-winning "Juno" (Cody won Best Screenplay honors), is a horror-comedy that’s short on both the horror and the comedy. After the success of "Juno," Cody could have made any film she wanted (within budgetary reason, of course), but instead of another comedy-drama, she turned to the horror genre, a genre considered inhospitable to women, both as filmmakers and onscreen, disreputable, weighted heavily toward commerce on the commerce-art divide, even for filmmakers interested in spinning the genre in subversive directions. With so much stacked against "Jennifer’s Body,' not to mention a director inexperienced with the genre’s conventions, it’s not surprising that the end result is a disappointing mash-up of "Heathers"-style social commentary, teen sex comedy, and serial killer tropes, but with a minimum of chills, thrills, blood, or gore.

Jennifer’s Body kicks off with voiceover narration, not from Jennifer (Megan Fox) but from the aptly nicknamed Needy (Amanda Seyfried), Jennifer’s best friend, as she reminisces about her friendship with Jennifer via flashback. Jennifer is everything Needy isn’t: she’s a popular, if bitchy, cheerleader, prone to wearing to wearing cleavage-revealing tops and too much makeup, while Needy is her exact physical opposite: she wears dowdy, loose-fitting clothes, ties her hair back, and wears glasses. Jennifer plays the field, pitting horny teenagers (and older men) against each other. Needy has a loyal boyfriend in Chip (Johnny Simmons). Jennifer leads and Needy follows, up to and including an evening out, minus Chip, to the local pub to hear an indie-rock band, Low Shoulder.

There, Jennifer becomes smitten with the lead singer, Nikolai (Adam Brody), who, after a suspicious fire destroys the pub, absconds with Jennifer in his van while a traumatized Needy looks on. Hours later, Jennifer appears at Needy’s home covered in blood and promptly vomits a black noxious evil. Jennifer isn’t, as Needy says later on, “high school evil” anymore, she’s out-and-out evil. In the second (or is it third?) undermotivated act, Needy doesn’t call the police or inform anyone else about Jennifer’s blood-soaked appearance. By the next day, Jennifer has returned to normal, at least physically. Her self-centeredness has turned to sociopathy when confronted with news about the previous night’s deaths. Despite that and even after several murders, each leaving an eviscerated teenage boy behind, Needy clings to Jennifer and their “BFF” friendship.

As straight-out horror or subversive, transgressive Cronenberg-style “body horror, ”Jennifer’s Body fails. The director, Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux, Girlfight), shows little interest or aptitude for directing horror. Despite an R-rating, Jennifer’s Body skimps on the gore. Rather than show Jennifer in full-on carnage mode, Kusama cuts away right as she attacks or stages the attack in silhouette, leaving the eviscerated corpses for a post-attack shot (nothing we haven’t seen on a CSI slab). Given that Fox doesn’t fulfill the dreams of fanboys everywhere and take her clothes off, why cheat audiences on the gore? Maybe Kusama and Cody wanted to keep Jennifer from appearing too unsympathetic, but that rationale doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny (given Fox’s stereotypical, uni-dimensional character). Or maybe Kusama and Cody just couldn’t bring themselves to go all out on the blood and gore and thus dampen their critical reputations (such as they are).

Of course, Kusama only directed Jennifer’s Body. Diablo Cody wrote the screenplay and acted as executive producer, giving her a measure of creative control. Cody wrote it, Kusama directed it. That doesn’t mean Kusama couldn’t have added her own visual flourishes or style or create tension and suspense from the raw material of Cody’s screenplay. She could have, but didn’t. Instead, Kusama shows her inexperience with the horror genre by depending on shock cuts, characters appearing from off frame, and sharp cracks on the soundtrack, almost of all them guaranteed to leave audiences unmoved.

Cody received criticism, most of it justified, for the hyper-stylized, unrealistic dialogue she gave her characters in "Juno." Cody gives the characters in "Jennifer’s Body" more naturalistic dialogue, but she still has them revert to hyper-articulate mode at key moments, usually by dropping a pop culture reference. Unfortunately, Cody is no Joss Whedon ("Dollhouse," "Firefly," "Angel," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and, as with any writer who insists on having their characters litter their speech with pop culture verbiage, by the time said pop culture references reach their intended movie audiences, they’re already stale and out-of-date. If Cody wanted to write Whedonesque dialogue, then maybe she should have hired Whedon to give her script an uncredited polish.

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