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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Jennifer’s Body (review)

Random Acts of Violence

Now I get what everyone was bitching about last year with Juno, about how self-conscious screenwriter Diablo Cody’s dialogue was, how desperate it was to sound cool and hip even to the point of distraction. It didn’t bother me with that film because the characters felt real — the way they talked may have been a bit artificial, but it helped create a heightened sense of reality for a situation that was all about underscoring the awkwardness of being a pregnant high schooler.
Theoretically, the same could be said about the awkwardness of being a high school demon: that it could use a thematic assist from lines such as “You need a mani bad. You should find a Chinese chick to buff your situation.” But when it gets around to having a sweet high school boy describe his girlfriend to his girlfriend as “this girl I made love to for four minutes last night,” well, something smells bad.

It’s as if everyone in Jennifer’s Body knows they’re a character in Jennifer’s Body: The New Movie From Badass Chick Screenwriter Diablo Cody, and so those characters had damn well better say something clever every few minutes for the invisible audience who are listening off in the ether. Because that — the notion that these characters know they have to play to a crowd — is the only there there in Jennifer’s Body. If Juno had real heart and real people doing their best to cope with difficult circumstances and perhaps tried to keep a sense of humor about themselves as a good place to start, Jennifer’s Body has a fervent desire that you really, really like 80s slasher flicks and will get a kick out of a few nods toward them. Oh, and that you will enjoy seeing Megan Fox make out with Amanda Seyfried even if it makes such little sense within the context of the story that the actors themselves appear totally nonplussed by the moment.

Cody has been saying all sorts of things to anyone who will listen about how Jennifer’s Body is supposed to be some sort of allegory about adolescent girls, from their bitchiness to their best friends to their disordered eating. But all that’s here are a few placeholders, points in the story at which some allegory could have been inserted later. The possession of Fox’s (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) Jennifer by a demon is the starting point for metaphor and satire, not the ending of it… except to Cody and director Karyn Kusama, who still has yet to show us she can make another film like her startling debut, Girlfight (Aeon Flux sucked, too). Perhaps if no one noticed a difference between Jennifer pre-demon and Jennifer possessed, that might have helped make the point we’re supposed to believe the movie wants to make. But no: Jennifer before her possession is a hot, popular cheerleader, but she seems nice enough, and even her sexuality is played as sweet and adventurous, not slutty. (Which is how it should be: if there’s one aspect of Body that I do like, it’s the casualness with which it depicts teen sex, and a refreshing lack of freaking out about the idea of kids as sexual beings.)

So where’s the satire — where’s the there there — when an ordinary high school girl becomes possessed by a demon and then goes on a killing rampage of people who never did her any harm? Demon Jennifer picking on random boys in the most violent ways possible is meant to be amusing, or pointed, or something in the least bit fascinating?

Random might be the word that best characterizes Jennifer’s Body, from the supposed-to-be-but-ain’t nerdiness of Seyfried’s (Mamma Mia!, American Gun) Needy, best friend to Jennifer, to the shocking act of destruction and horror that opens the film: if Satan were as real and as powerful as it is implied here that he is, he’d have had a hand in that act, and we’d have enjoyed some implications that there truly is some awesome power of evil at work. But the only awesome power Diablo Cody seems to be aware of here if the power of the non sequitur. It’s all over Jennifer’s Body, and it ain’t the doing of Satan.


MPAA: rated R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use


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  • Ide Cyan

    If you do your “alternatives to this week-end’s multiplex offerings” column tomorrow, in stead of Jennifer’s Body you might offer Ginger Snaps, the high school girl turns into a werewolf movie penned by Karen Walton, which Jennifer’s Body sounds like it’s trying but failing to emulate.

  • Mathias

    With this film, Cody proves that she isn’t a fraction of the screenwriter that she was hype up to be 2 years ago and should give her screenwriting Oscar to the real winner, Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton.

    I’m gonna see this film tommorow and no doubt cringe dozens of times at Cody’s self-consious “Hip speak” which i think we should just nickname as “Cody-Speak” today.

  • Mathias

    Great idea Ide, i don’t think MaryAnn’s ever seen Ginger Snaps, which is such a shame.

    Perhaps as punishment, Cody should be forced to watch it and see what a feminist twist on the horror genre REALLY looks like.

  • doa766

    ginger snaps is a great horror (canadian) movie, but if you’re going to check it out be careful of the horrible no-number, only-subtitle sequel which can be mistaken for the original

  • Maurice

    So disappointing. I was hoping for a film that crosses boundaries between horror and comedy. Something humorous, dark, caustic, biting, etc.

    I suppose I’ll be skipping Jennifer’s Body which seems more and more like an attempt to cash in the last few minutes of fame left on Megan Fox’s body.

    At least there’s 9. I’ll see that instead.

  • Mathias

    Gotta disagree with you on one bit, Maurice.

    I think we’ll be seeing Megan Fox on the big screen for years and years to come.

  • virtonazrail

    «It’s all over Jennifer’s Body, and it ain’t the doing of Satan.»

    Well, Diablo does mean Devil in spanish. Sure she isn’t the incarnation of Satan who grabed our attention with a not-so-bad pseudo-indie flick and then when we were all expecting the next step she showed us her real nature, MaryAnn? Pretty good explanation having this crap as evidence…

  • Muzz

    posted by Mathias

    Gotta disagree with you on one bit, Maurice.

    I think we’ll be seeing Megan Fox on the big screen for years and years to come.

    Do you think so? She doesn’t seem to have much going for her so far that a zillion other big starlets haven’t had before. Yes, she’s got a lot more exposure than most right now. But that’s all I can see.
    I mean, there’s plenty of lust and hate thrown around already. I’m just curious how you see it. To my mind she’s not an every-girl like Sandra Bullock, no class like Catherine Zeta Jones, can’t act like Angelia Jolie.
    Examples of my vague reasoning.

  • MBI

    Ah, but Megan Fox is a genuine sex-bomb, she’s being hyped up as the Hotness to end all Hotness, and even in a town full of pretty girls, that might be enough to sustain her career. Jessica Alba is still around after a decade, after all, and you can’t tell me she knows how to act. Megan Fox might turn out to be the next Alba. Or she might turn out to be the next Pam Anderson, too, so who knows.

    I’ve done my fair share of blasting Cody and “Juno,” but “Juno” wasn’t a BAD movie really. But it definitely seemed like a movie which only became good by accident, that just sort of stumbled across a real plotline in the Juno/Mark/Vanessa love triangle — salvaging a failing film that undernourished the Juno/Bleeker relationship and gutlessly stepped around any drama with the actual pregnancy. But seriously, Ellen Page had to act around a whole lot of bad writing to make that movie work, and it helps that Ellen Page is not Megan Fox, if you catch my drift. It looks like Diablo Cody has taken all the wrong lessons from “Juno” and none of the correct ones (one of which is “Always work with Jason Reitman and Ellen Page).

  • Muzz

    Ah, but Megan Fox is a genuine sex-bomb, she’s being hyped up as the Hotness to end all Hotness, and even in a town full of pretty girls, that might be enough to sustain her career. Jessica Alba is still around after a decade, after all, and you can’t tell me she knows how to act. Megan Fox might turn out to be the next Alba. Or she might turn out to be the next Pam Anderson, too, so who knows.

    Well, hype is hype. We all forget just how fleeting taste is, sometimes. I do agree she does have a remarkably zeitgeisty look, as though she was custom ordered to Maxim specifications.
    They are excellent examples of enduring pin-ups you’ve given there as well. Alba in particular shows you don’t need to be able to ‘open a movie’, as they say, to stick around.

    Cody’s writing gets a lot of flak around the traps. I don’t mind self conscious style now and then. The thing is people even seem to carry this over to United States of Tara. I haven’t seen this example (J’s B), but USoT was a really well made show all around, with dialogue all about character (not that it’s change your life amazing, but solid). From the sounds J’s B is a little like The Doom Generation, cool indie-ish folk who’ve done well in other areas trying to do black satire and not quite getting there.
    A new Heathers proves elusive.

  • Wow! I never expected to see Diablo Cody get a good review from this person.

    So much for the notion that all female published authors to the left of Ann Coulter always agree on stuff.

    A new Heathers proves elusive.

    Plus it can be argued by hardcore b-film buffs that Heathers is really little more than a defanged version of Massacre at Central High, but that’s an argument for another day.

  • Dick

    Megan Fox is no more than over emphasized trailer trash. She is NOT a natural beauty but rather an example of how you make an average girl look hot with plastic surgery, botox injections and fake tits. Don’t belive it, check out plastic surgery before and after pics of stars. You’ll see. She has dog poop for brains. In her latest FHM magazine article interview, she talks about how her different “farts” smell. Is she a sick pig or what?

  • Circelily

    I saw this movie on Sunday (it’s just opened in England) and was blown away at how virulent the criticism has been of such a fun female-centred movie. So what if it’s not Ginger Snaps. that was 10 years ago. Heathers is 20 years old! If people keep holding the film movies with known women behind the scenes to impossible standards, then we’re playing into the hands of misogynists who just don’t need the help! Do you want the non-stop wedding movies to be the only “chick flicks” we ever get, time immemorial?

    Basically it blew every other “women-targeted” movie this year to smithereens. I laughed a lot, and came out bouncing with glee. It reminded me of Shaun of the Dead in lots of ways, while the central relationship gave me flashbacks to Point Break. Just gender-flipped. It’s not the most perfect jewel in the ocean, but it was entertaining and enjoyable, makes a great midnight movie and that’s a good thing.

  • MaryAnn

    If people keep holding the film movies with known women behind the scenes to impossible standards, then we’re playing into the hands of misogynists who just don’t need the help!

    “Known women”?

    Why am I hearing, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a woman?” in my head?

    I didn’t think asking a movie to not suck was an impossible standard, but that’s just me.

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