A film review by Craig J. Koban October 7, 2009

JENNIFER'S BODY jjj

2009, R, 102 mins.

Jennifer: Megan Fox / Needy: Amanda Seyfried / Chip: Johnny Simmons / Nikolai: Adam Brody / Mr. Wroblewski: J.K. Simmons / Mrs. Lesnicky: Amy Sedaris

Directed by Karyn Kusama / Written by Diablo Cody

Megan Fox is insanely hot.  Deal with it.

 

And on top of her seductive, sex kitten façade that she flaunts with a confident gusto that makes men swoon and women envious and/or spiteful, Fox also manages to project an...unusual sincerity.

 

Now...hear me out.

 

If there is one thing I respect about her – outside of the obvious – is that she is anything but a smug, pompous, and arrogant Hollywood phony.  More specifically, Fox exudes a sensibility about herself that many of her young peers lack: she intuitively understands her limitations as an actress, how to use her Maxim cover girl looks to attract attention, and where her place is in the movie industry.  Those only exposed to her in the two monumentally dreadful TRANSFORMERS films saw her flounder in emotionally comatose performances that only served to compliment the big, shiny toys that surrounded her.  However, if you look a bit deeper, Fox is more than meets the eye (lame pun intended).

 

I have been reading most of her print interviews and have watched her TV appearances and one intriguing thing sticks out: she is irreverent, smart, and inordinately modest about her very sexpot image.  A self-professed comic book and video game nerd that likes “cheap dates” (making her, like, the ultimate dream woman in my books), Fox also has revealed that (a) she knows that she is not a great actress with much range, (b) she absolutely acknowledges that her previous two films were lackluster and without much substance, and (c) she knows that she’s a babe, is not conceited about it, and recognizes just how to sell her provocative image.  In an age when we have so many unattainably attractive actresses that exhibit such a lack of genuineness with who they are and with their lack of thespian skills, Fox comes off as a refreshing breath of air.  She’s a relatively mediocre actress with stunning physical assets, but she never falsely tries to sell herself as anything else.  

 

In short: she is delectably self-aware celebrity.

 

This, of course, brings me to JENNIFER’S BODY, which has been largely advertised on Fox’s ravenously stunning physical features, to be sure, but if you look deeper into the film – as you really should with the actress within it – you’ll come out thinking that it is an infectiously campy, funny, sophisticated, and inanely entertaining homage to the exploitation and horror genre, with just a little sprinkle of themes involving adolescent angst, feminist empowerment and sexuality, and how teenage girls form bonds with one another that oftentimes become fragile and abusive.  And here’s a real whopper of a shock: Fox is a unexpectedly effectual in the title role of a high school vixen that literally turns into a ravenous, Satan-possessed boy eater.  She really sinks her teeth into this role of a heartless and tastelessly narcissistic bitch that uses her intense egoism to later compliment her vampire-esque lust for the blood and organs of her victims.  Fox rather smartly plays the role relatively straight and not as broad and over the top as many have feared, which allows the dark comedy of the film to simmer with a more satisfying acerbic bite.

 

Of course, the very self-aware Fox is well teamed with the equally self-aware screenplay by Diablo Cody, who previous to JENNIFER’S BODY won a very deserving Oscar for her script for her hilariously touching, razor sharp, and lyrically idiosyncratic JUNO.  If there was one triumphant aspect about JUNO then it would be just how much joy and color that Cody packed into the individual dialogued exchanges: her teen characters did not speak realistically, per se, but rather with emotionally frank and candid inflections that were ripe with pop culture references and sly, Gen-X inspired sarcasm.  Oftentimes, her characters spoke to one another with a dizzying pace and flow, throwing out articulate and clever commentaries about their predicaments and surroundings.  Moronic critics have criticized her gleeful use of quirky language and colloquialisms as being too clever and that teens would never be sophisticated enough to communicate in such ways.  That’s a total cop out - just consider the alternative: would you rather sit through another assembly line teen slasher film with dialogue as painfully routine and banal as they come or would you rather listen to Cody’s sharp witted and discerning creations engage in gleefully snappy banter back and forth?  Call me crazy, but I relish at any opportunity to see movies where the writer’s voice is felt through her characters, and with JUNO and now JENNIFER’S BODY, that’s a good thing.

 

The script plays like a weird and kooky hybrid of Wes Craven meets John Hughes meets Kevin Smith.  In its introduction we meet two lifelong BFFs attending the same high school, the nerdy and somewhat tomboyish Needy (the infectiously cute-as-a-button Amanda Seyfried, on the very cusp of super stardom) and Jennifer (Fox).  Jennifer is the obligatory epitome of high school popularity: she’s on the cheerleading squad, has girls that want to be her friends, and has every boy in school really wanting to be her friend, but in less platonic ways.  Needy, on the other hand, is very aptly named: she is kind of a shy, inhibited, puppy-dog like figure that tags along Jennifer’s every whim and suggestion.  The two are polar opposites, but they both have an understanding of their place in their respective friendship: Jenny is the bombshell that is wanted and Needy can also be a bombshell and wanted, but just not as much (she always must be second fiddle to her BFF).  That is not to say that Jennifer does not care about Needy’s chances of scoring with boys: As she hilariously advises Needy – while grabbing her breasts - in one of the film’s many side-splittingly exchanges, “These are like smart bombs, you point them in the right direction and shit gets real!”

 

Needy does have a boyfriend that is a nice reflection of her, the bashful, sweet, and considerate Chip (in an endearing performance by Johnny Simmons, whose calm demeanor acts as the voice of reason within all of the film's madness), who is always by her side, even when she displays latently...shall we say...homoerotic obsessions with Jennifer.  One night Jennifer does steal Needy away from Chip to go to a concert featuring a “big city band” named Low Shoulder, headed by a creepy and charismatic lead singer (Adam Brody, with a contemptuous smug veneer that you want to punch off of him).  Low Shoulder, for some odd reason, has shown up in the girls’ small and meager town of Devil's Kettle (hee-hee), but as they explain it, “It’s important to reach out to our fans in crappy areas, too.”

 

Jennifer becomes unhealthily infatuated with the lead singer, so much so that she decides to ditch Needy for a fling with him and his band mates.  What she does not know is that they secretly are kidnapping her to a secluded spot in the forest so they can – ahem – sacrifice her virginal body to Satan in exchange to become instantly famous.  Some of the leader’s band mates have doubts about the morality of his plan (as well as to the truth behind Jennifer's virginity...go figure!), but as he matter-of-factly points out,  "Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days?  Satan is our only hope!”  Needless to say, they do sacrifice Jennifer in a vile and repugnant ceremony (FYI: they got the demonic instructions off of the Internet, so they must be trustworthy), but what they are unaware of is that Jennifer is not a virgin at all (big surprise!).  The complication: the ceremony that they think has gone perfectly has the unintended side-effect of placing a demonic spirit into Jennifer body and, in turn, forces her to – honest to blog - eat her male schoolmates in order to maintain her beauty.  

 

JENNIFER’S BODY is considerably smarter and funnier than many recent critics have given it credit for: If anything, the film reminded me considerably of the first few SCREAM films for how it both cheerfully lampoons and pays tribute to the trappings of the horror genre.  The script also has wall-to-wall pop culture intonations and some of the individual dialogue exchanges between the various characters have a nail-biting precision and wit.  I especially liked a moment when Jennifer relays to Needy how she watched AQUAMARINE on DVD: "It’s about a girl who’s, like, half sushi.  She must have had sex with a blowhole or something.”  I also relished at one amusing exchange when Jennifer pleads with Needy to not believe in PMS, seeing as it’s a “creation of the boy-centric media to make women feel crazy once a month.”  Without a doubt, the most merrily droll exchange occurs when Needy confronts the demonic Jennifer: “You’re a terrible best friend.  You stole my toys when we were little, you poured lemonade on my bed.”  Jennifer calmly retorts, “And now I am eating your boyfriend.  At least I am consistent.”

 

You see?  It is that sly level of quick ingenuity that Cody gives to her characters that separates JENNIFER’S BODY far from the witless and disposable pantheon of forgettable horror films.  They are not thoughtless one note props that parade around from one predictable scene to the next; rather, these are smart and savvy teen characters that carry a unforeseen level of intelligence, free wheeling quirkiness, and emotional authority.  Yes, JENNIFER’S BODY does play up to the more mundane elements of the genre: we have scenes involving projectile vomiting, demonic possessions, flesh and organ eating, and so forth, but Cody’s cheeky playfulness and spunk shines through.  I also like how she flirtatiously winks to the audience at certain moments of the film:  Late in the proceedings Needy goes to her school library to the occult section to investigate demonic possession.  Now, what high school in the world would have this section?  A few minutes later, an incredulous Chip asks her, “How does our library have an occult section?”  Instances like that one are wickedly crafty: Cody let’s the audience knows that she knows the absurdity of the underlining story.

 

The performances themselves are also kind of thankless: Fox, even though she may be a bit too old to plausibly feel like a high school senior, nonetheless is plausible as a cheerleader with a killer measurements and an even deadlier taste for a boy's internal organs.  Perhaps even better is the high spirited, instantly amiable, and buoyant Amanda Seyfried, also a babe in her own right, but giving a very grounded and emotionally vulnerable portrait of her…well…needy high schooler with a bond to Jennifer that she oftentimes can’t explain (especially in the film’s most infamous scene where the two play a very eroticized game of “mommy and daddy”, much to the geektasmic delight of every man in the audience).  Beyond the two main leads, I also howled over a very small, but very funny, cameo by J.K. Simmons as a one-armed teacher that is so pathetically dweeby and naïve that he has no idea that his feeble attempts to relate to his students are unmitigated failures.

 

Perhaps the biggest weakness of JENNIFER’S BODY is that its director, Karyn Kusama (GIRL FIGHT) does not seem really equal to the task of visually fleshing out Cody’s savvy and irreverent screenplay into something cohesive.  Oftentimes, it feels like tension-filled slasher chic mixed with a warm and jovial teen buddy dramedy, which is further convoluted by Kusama’s wishes to be loyal to crafting a film about empowered women overcoming gender obstacles.  JENNIFER’ S BODY is a concrete example of how a screenplay is finer than the direction of it.  However, despite its flaws, I think that JENNIFER’S BODY will develop – and deserves – a cult following when it hits DVD and Blu Ray (it’s been box office poison since its theatrical release earlier this month).  The film is more fiendish, smarter, sexy, scary, and amusing than I ever thought I'd admit and it also triumphantly showcases Megan Fox – with her world famous sumptuous body aside – as an actress with a good eye for comedy, but only when she's given the chance (now, Ellen Page or Kristen Stewart she ain’t, but to be fair, she’s frightfully decent here).  To take a page of one of character’s vernacular in the film, JENNIFER’S BODY is a freaktarded good time, largely because of its sensationalistic entertainment value.

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