Juno might have earned Diablo Cody both a Best Screenplay Oscar and anointment to the position of the next big indie darling, but its wearily hip teen speak dialogue also irritated enough critics to ensure that her follow up, no matter what it was, would be heralded by the mass collective sharpening of critical knives. In terms of vindication for Cody and her unique sense of character, the Megan Fox fronted Jennifer’s Body is a big thumbs down. In terms of the overall movie, it does work on a couple of levels – assuming no one in the audience has ever seen or heard of Heathers, Ginger Snaps, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, or any other deeply ironic horror-cum-comedy allegorizing teen angst from the last twenty years.
Given that Michael Bay was essentially only interested in shooting Megan Fox from the waist down bent over classic automobiles, it’s welcome to see what she can do when the camera bothers to take in the rest of her. As Jennifer, the resident hottie of a sleepy Minnesota town, Fox flaunts her animal magnetism in a cheerleader outfit, literally devouring the boys after a botched demonic sacrifice by an emo band seeking stardom transforms her into a flesh-eating Succubus. But she’s not really the star of Jennifer’s Body. Far more attention is given to her BFF, the dorky plain girl, Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried. In reality of course Seyfriend’s classical, porcelain beauty could match Fox’s smoldering sex appeal any day, so director Karyn Kusama tosses her a pair of standard nerd issue spectacles and seemingly instructed her to not wash her hair for a month.
Despite eclipsing Fox in terms of screen time by a comfortable margin, Seyfried’s not really the star of Jennifer’s Body either. No, the real stars, it would seem, are scripter Diablo Cody’s pop-culture infused zingers, and no one is more convinced of this than Diablo Cody. Delivering a script utterly devoid of scares, Our Lady of Locker Speak seems to take great pleasure in bringing scenes to a shuddering halt so characters can trade back and forth barbed, hideously labored witticisms that absolutely nobody in the real world ever uses. People aren’t jealous; they’re “lime green jello.” Curious kids aren’t curious; they’re “les-be-gay.”
From the very beginning both Cody and Kasuma operate under the assumption that that’s going to be enough, and everything else is just the shit that happens in between. You know, all that story and stuff. Only they never take the time to lay solid groundwork for any subsequent emotional payoff. A horror movie doesn’t work very well if you don’t give a damn about any of the people who potentially might have themselves a misfortune.
Neither scary enough to work as a horror nor funny enough to deliver by way of comedy, the tone of Jennifer’s Body is bizarre and erratic from the off. As Needy and Jennifer hop off to the town’s only bar to take in show by wannabe superstars/incompetent occultists Low Shoulder, the bar spectacularly just explodes, sending screaming people set aflame running into the darkness. Suddenly we find ourselves checking which theater we’re in convinced we’ve mistakenly wandered into a showing of The Final Destination.
Occasionally the script does hit a winner; after Jennifer accepts an ominous sounding offer of a ride in the band’s creepy looking van, Needy places a panicked call to her boyfriend Chip (Simmons) and responds to an unhelpful question about the make of the van with: “I don’t know, an `89 Rapist?” But even after Jennifer’s transformation to demonic bitch queen is complete, the narrative remains sorely muddled, careering back-and-forth between Needy’s neurotic fears over Jennifer stealing away Chip and clumsy symbolism representative of Jennifer’s hungry sexual awakening with corpses trailing in her wake. The emasculating dispatching of a jock in the woods for example is juxtaposed with shots of a baby deer being given the eye by a raven.
Kusama must be apportioned a fair share of the blame, exerting absolutely no directorial authority, seemingly content to play slave to the dialogue and offering up sequences the cinematic equivalent of a bad variety act where the performers stroll to the front of the stage and turn to face the audience each time they’re getting ready to deliver a joke. That Kasuma even goes so far as to allow the big, climactic denouement to be set in an abandoned swimming pool just so Cody can jam in the line “Come show me your breaststroke” tells you everything you need to know.
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, Kyle Gallner, J.K. Simmons
Director: Karyn Kusama
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox