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A cheerleader at a small midwestern high school becomes possessed by a demon and sets out to kill off all the guys in town.
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In promoting her new film Jennifer’s Body, Diablo Cody is saying that her inspiration for the horror romp was high school itself, because she could think of nothing scarier than that…. While this is a sentiment that most of us can identify with, a place of human emotional truth is not necessarily an obvious choice for sex-horror source material. But Cody was committed to veering tonally far from her initial success, the relatable and sensitive Juno, while still writing ‘what she knows’, and Jennifer’s Body was that route. Creating something different from what you’ve done in the past, however, is not tantamount to creating something ‘Different’ to the world. Fans of the high school-horror genre may be eagerly anticipating this one, but I doubt for its original story or its aspiring feminist smarts. The body of evidence, lets be frank, lies in Megan Fox.
Fox has recently, and most “notably”, titillated as the most protuberant flesh amongst the metal mayhem of the Transformers films. Her sex-doll features and agreeable persona have garnered a massive following of males (and some females), mostly still living at home on their computers and fueled by Coke and their own hyperventilating. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s one of the oldest ‘tricks’ in the Hollywood machine’s playbook. Clever for Cody, riding the crest of her own ingénue overnight success, to hitch onto the helium trajectory of this glossy new Star. Like virginity and revenge, a more productive combo is hard to conjure.
So with mildly clever if unoriginal script, and hot embodiment of title character, we have Jennifer’s Body. I can’t say I am a fan of this genre, nor would I have paid any mind to this particular film, if not for the confluence of elements as discussed above. If the film and internet community is buzzing about something, I want to be in the know; call it my own personal cross to bear… So, on my thirty-ish birthday no less, I caught the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. This is a misleading milieu in which to react to a film, as one is part of an audience which is largely just happy to be there for sake of its being a film festival – an Event. Particularly this “Midnight Madness” crowd had planned to have fun, regardless of the artistic integrity of the content. Hoots were a plenty, and I couldn’t help but be swayed in part.
Jennifer’s Body is an entertaining film on the surface. As far as surfaces go, Megan certainly commands the camera with her big baby-doll eyes, pouty lips, and command of her curves. Girl looks good. The role of Jennifer is that of a vacuous, self-involved, competitive man-eater; so again, Megan can do this justice. She may have potential as an actress, but JB will not be the revelation of this yet in her career…. She needs to, um, “grow.” In terms of a relatable and nuanced characterization, Amanda Seyfried is the one to watch here. As Needy, Jennifer’s longtime and longsuffering wall-flower of a BFF (a cinematic device pairing, not found in real cruel high school), Seyfried is at once sympathetic, frustrating, playful, and ultimately not a bad role model as teen romps go. The supporting cast is mostly superfluous – although mention must be made of the exceedingly wily and fun performance of Adam Brody as the lead of an Emu band (which plays a key role in the unlikely plot). Oh, and J.K. Simmons as a kindly if obtuse one-handed teacher, played for laughs but also offering heart.
The plot itself is the shallowest and most disappointing element of the proceedings, in that it is far less clever and much more literal than the Cody genesis and feminist-ideology press would suggest. It is not an original or intriguing twist that the source of the horror in the story is one of the “Kids” themselves, that it comes from within the high school halls instead of being inflicted from some crazed murdered who descends upon them, or some supernatural demonic presence that is truly out of this world. The more modern sub-genre of teen horror that was born primarily of the Scream franchise and its ilk, while reviving the larger genre with its clever and fun pop-culture/self-referential irony, also diminished any subsequent forays into edgy, ironic, ain’t-it-cool ‘twists’ using the teens themselves. So basically, the shock value of the prom queen being the demon villain is not a strong enough hook for today’s savvy Gen X/Y/Z audience…. It’s like, “And…???” Making her a slut on top of that is about as daring a choice as ordering fries with your Big Mac.
Speaking of the meat of the matter – or, the cheese – I’d be remiss not to address the infamous Lesbian Kiss scene. As far as the buzz for Jennifer’s Body goes, be it on grassroots internet or in studio marketing [and really, where does one end and the other begin?], the lip-lock scene between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried is the obvious catnip fulcrum. There’s no denying this presents a powerful draw to a certain viewership, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem with drawn-out titillating anticipation is that in the final delivery one is often disappointed. It’s not even that the Kiss is gratuitous to the story, because argument could be made for it signifying elements of the Jennifer/Needy relationship as well as Jennifer’s evolving ‘hunger’. It’s just damn anti-climactic. If this is truly the main draw for ticket-buyers, I would have to caution them to not spread wide their wallets; the dollar-to-donuts ratio is not favorable for the “Oh yeah baby!” crowd. Even my husband admitted they should’ve thrown in a booby or two.
And yet I did feel like I’d enjoyed a good romp with Jennifer’s Body. Perhaps because I am not an aficionado of the genre, I didn’t mind the generic twists and clichéd choices, preferring to see them as homage to a genre as it is quietly (if too obviously) being spoofed. The portrayal of teens in performance and dialogue is to this mom’s mind pretty believable, and often quite amusing. Cody’s trademark torrents of hip witticisms and slang is on fine display, and is mostly not too obnoxious. The violence/gore – as with the sex – is pretty perfunctory and inoffensive. None of the elements stand out on their own as anything particularly fresh or cool; yet somehow the package works as a temporary mindless pleasure that doesn’t make you hate yourself. Be it in high school, or the movie theatre, that’s quite the accomplishment.