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.

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