Jennifer's Body

a film by Karyn Kusama

At first glance, Jennifer's Body, directed by Karyn Kusama, but more importantly (or should I say more notably) written by the overly snarky Juno wordsmith and Oscar winner Diablo Cody, seems like just another teen horror movie. Perhaps a bit more press than is typical, due to the over-deified Cody's involvement, but just another teen horror movie nonetheless. A dime a dozen these days, or should I say, in spite of inflation (and to pun the genre just a bit), a dime a gross. But then first glances, just like beer goggles, can be quite misleading. Such is the case with Jennifer's Body - with reference to both first glances and beer goggles.

As true horror it misses its mark more oft than not, but after all, that is not what Kusama and (especially) Cody are going for here, despite the latter' self-moniker of horror junkie. As horror-comedy - in the vein of films such as Shaun of the Dead and most of Sam Raimi's oeuvre - it also misses the mark but comes a bit closer to what it really is - or at least really should be. When taken as satire on the burgeoning sexuality of teenage girls - and their ways and means of controlling it and others with it - then Jennifer's Body is a win-win. Considering Cody's Oscar-grabbing participation in 2007's Juno and its own form of teen sex satire, one must assume - ideally without making an ass of themselves - this is the motif most reasonably aimed toward.

Perhaps the film never delves all that deep into things - even the quite reprehensible Juno had more to comment on - nor does it have the luxury of a headlining actress capable of any such attempted deepness, but as lighthearted satire, Jennifer's Body possesses (an apt word) a good, swift kick in the pants to all those self-righteous filmmaking attempts at recreating what De Palma did with Carrie back in the day. This film works as a sort of melange of The Exorcist, Heathers and the aforementioned De Palma paean to budding womanhood gone (really) awry. Granted, neither Kusama's direction nor Cody's writing (admittedly turned down about a hundred and eleven notches from the Gen-Z melange of Newspeak and NADSAT spoken throughout Juno - thank the Gods!) are anywhere near the things De Palma can do as director (and sometimes writer) but the giddy, half-smirk, satiric girl-crush that is Jennifer's Body is firmly ensconced throughout the film.

But I suppose we should step away from critical analysis for a moment and talk about the actual movie itself and what is happening within its blood and gore caked borders. Actually there isn't that much blood and guts in comparison to the typical modern slasher film, but what is there is delightfully - and purposefully one assumes - whimsical and woozy. But I digress once again. Jennifer's Body is the story of the most popular girl in school - every girl hates her and every guy wants her - who meets up with an evil wannabe indie rock band and after a botched sacrifice (this girl ain't no virgin!) becomes possessed by the devil. After this, Jennifer goes on an eating spree, devouring all the teenage boys she can get her hands on and mouth full of fangs into. You know the story. Girl meets evil musicians, girl becomes possessed by Satan, girl devours boys in gorefest feeding frenzy. It's a tale as old as time.

Jennifer, and her titular body, is played with a smug sense of over-assurance by the current it girl of the horny, under eighteen, over forty Maxim crowd, Megan Fox. Her lack of even the slightest amount of acting talent notwithstanding, Fox actually fits into the role of blood-thirsty, man-hating succubus with an aimless ease. In fact it is probably because of this very lack of talent that Fox is perfect as the vapid, empty-headed creature of the night. For this film is not about the mind or the soul, but about the body. It's not called Jennifer's Mind or Jennifer's Soul after all. What is needed is a mindless body and what we get is that very same thing. The typical dumb girl in a hot bod package. A skankarella story of you will - led by the brainless bombshell of the week. When even Michael "I blow things up real good" Bay disses your abilities, you know you better start hoping your looks don't fade.

Yet no matter how hot hot hot all the magazines and entertainment shows tell us Megan Fox is (even SNL worked it into just about every skit during her season premier dalliance with the show) and I suppose she is on a certain basic horndog level, Jennifer's best friend and eventual nemesis, Needy also acts out a sexuality of sorts. Played by Amanda Seyfried (best known for her recurring role as the daughter of polygamy in HBO's Big Love and one of the many dancing and singing fools of Mamma Mia!) Needy is the antithesis to Jennifer's open-mouthed sexuality. Bespectacled and intelligent - but still a sexually active teenage girl who knows the power of her body - Needy acts as the yin to Jennifer's feminine yang. Of course I have always been a sucker for a girl in glasses (Dorothy Parker be damned!) so this may be the cause for my interest more in the "nerdy" than the "hottie". Of course Needy isn't going around eating people for demonic sustenance and eternal beauty either. This has always been a plus in my book.

So, first glances and beer goggles aside, Jennifer's Body is a giddy exploration of the teenage girl and her newly amazed and amazing body. A sexual satire meets a really hip high school health class meets a possessed bitch who eats people movie. And let's not forget the requisite lesbian make-out scene brought to you for no other reason than it is a lesbian make-out scene between two hot teenage girls. Okay, so Jennifer's Body may be no Carrie (the homage ending to that film can be found elsewhere this year, namely in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds) but all the pieces of that movie's subtext are here, only scattershot and often untaped for their potential. Kusama's film (her Girlfight also dealt with sexuality but in a much different manner) may be schlock horror - and much of it is just that - but it does manage to creep out of the creep long enough to merit a certain type of watchability. Now if only we could move on past all this annoying fanboy Megan Fox body worship and get a life, everything would be okay. Oh yeah, that's kinda the premise of the film. C'est la vie. [09/29/09]