9/18/2009

Movie Review: Jennifer's Body (2009)



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It's important to watch Jennifer's Body with this fact in mind: the screenplay was written roughly four years ago and right around the same time as Juno.

Instead of what I'd assumed would be a blend of Carrie meets Heathers with a little Mean Girls wit thrown into the mix courtesy of Oscar winning Juno scribe Diablo Cody, the hotly anticipated Jennifer's Body reaffirmed my belief that great writing gets noticed.



However, this isn't praise of Jennifer's Body but a critique. Namely, there's a reason why it was Juno and not Jennifer's Body which was purchased, greenlit, and filmed and that is because-- excruciatingly awful opening sequence with Rainn Wilson aside-- Juno was extremely well written whereas Jennifer's Body is the opposite. And aside from a terrific B-movie premise that the most beautiful and bitchy Queen Bee who ruled the roost of your local high school has turned into a man-eating demon, once that joke is milked in gruesome horror effect, it's repeated ad-nauseum to the point that we don't even have a movie anymore. Instead we have a great premise we suffer through for nearly two hours that insults all involved.



This includes of course the controversial Megan Fox who seems equally famous for her perfect physique that's been posted all over cyberspace thanks to turns in Michael Bay's Transformers films and scantily clad magazine shoots as she is for saying basically whatever she's thinking at any given moment. Giving male bloggers any excuse to add more Fox pics to their site, we get the latest scoop of her nonsense involving slamming Bay, outing herself as a possible bisexual or schizophrenic or noting that all she is is a product and she's fine with that.

Proof that all press is good press, I suppose-- I'll say this for Fox and that is she's always in the news so she's the dream client for a lazy publicist. Granted, many just don't get Fox including yours truly who-- aside from feeling she was ideal for her role in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People--believe that the actress spends most of her time trying to shock as a cross between Angelina Jolie (without the humanitarian work and Oscar) and Scarlett Johansson (without the brains).



Yet, just as Cody and her fellow producers-- essentially all Juno related including the film's director Jason Reitman-- expected, Fox is naturally suited for the lead as Jennifer and much to my surprise, she managed to bring some vulnerability and insecurity to the role that affected at least this audience member for a reason that went beyond the fact that she played someone with my first name.

The film is set in the ideally dubbed Devil's Kettle, MN-- a small town in the middle of nowhere famously named after its waterfall that finds water running down a hole in the Earth as though it were a drain towards Hell. And Fox's Jennifer is the type of girl you recognize instantly who plays with men and boys alike who deign to assume they're cute enough for her while engaging in an unhealthy co-dependent push/pull bullying relationship with her lifelong best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried).



Proof of the old misogynistic joke that beautiful women all have a plainer friend so that Jennifer can keep Needy in her place and someone who worships her 24/7 to be at her beck-and-call, at the start of the film Needy halfheartedly accompanies her to see a fledgling indie band whose lead singer (Adam Brody) has become Jennifer's latest obsession.

When the evening heads into disaster as the venue burns to the ground (killing several residents of the tight-knit community) and Needy pulls the in-shock Jennifer to safety, the lead singer manipulates Jennifer into his band's creepy van while Needy simply stands by and protests, watching her friend sit alone in a stereotypical "gang rape vehicle" as the sole girl in the company of several males.



As we later discover, Jennifer's fate was dismal indeed as-- mistaking her for a virginal tease who wields her sexuality as a weapon—the indie band sacrifices her in a gruesome ritual to become like the guy “from Maroon 5.” And while they become famous indeed, cashing in on the deadly blaze as faux national heroes, since they sacrificed Jennifer instead of a virgin, her body has morphed into that of a demon who spews black vomit and is hungry for man meat in the form of the traumatized boys of Devil's Kettle.



When Needy discovers what's going on, obviously nobody including her loyal boyfriend believes her so it's up to Needy to try and protect the men including her very own boyfriend, while still conflicted about the “sandbox love” that she states never dies between two lifelong girl friends. As no doubt you've read, this results in a bizarre girl-on-girl gratuitous make-out scene which led to giggles and scattered applause in my audience.

The film is directed by Girlfight filmmaker Karyn Kusama who's ventured a long sad way from the integrity of that Sundance favorite. And by engaging in repetitious over-the-top sequences of hormones gone wild and inter-splicing sex with gore that overstays its welcome within minutes-- the film is never sure exactly what it is supposed to be and the screenplay is as schizophrenically all over the place as one of Fox's outbursts.

Using a bookend approach or framing device, the movie begins after the tragedy by presenting us with the bleak existence of Seyfried who's physically and emotionally scarred from the events and in a psych ward. In doing so, the film sets an ugly, no-holds-barred tone from the start as Needy begins a narration that mysteriously vanishes as the action begins to detrimental effect. While it shows up here and there, by overwhelmingly ditching it for lackluster plot set-up, it's all the more confusing since narration could've helped explain her connection with Jennifer that bordered at times on psychic most perversely in a sex scene that is cut with a death, blood, and more as she envisions the worst while making love to her boyfriend. It's moments like this including dropped threads and psychologically disturbing logic that make you unsure just what Cody had in mind aside from her publicized desire to make a popcorn movie about teenage girls whom she felt were the scariest things in the world she could imagine.



Yet, it's not a popcorn movie and it's certainly not entertaining at least once the premise wears off especially when we realize that despite the fact that Fox was bitchy before she became a demon, after we see the brutality of her death (which was one instance of a couple where walk-outs took place at the theatre), I just mostly felt bad for our villain who wasn't really a villain but just another tragically murdered teenage girl.

It's not funny and it's not scary but sad to see her have no control (similar to the way I watch The Exorcist as the opposite of horror) and aside from the logic gap of wondering why she didn't seek revenge on that damn band who killed her, twenty-four hours after the film sunk in I realized that deep down, Needy is actually far worse than Jennifer for leaving a friend behind no matter how much they insist otherwise.



Perhaps to salvage this reading of Needy or-- Hollywood help us-- hint at a sequel, the film's finale goes well into the credits but by that point, we just don't really care. Since aside from the expressive and highly in tune performance of Seyfried and a solid one by Fox, to me the only thing scarier than high school murderers is using the murder victim in some odd form of immature writer's revenge against either pretty girls or just teenage girls in general and boys who've scorned her in the past from jocks to musicians. Thus, the pretty girl isn't evil at all since she's no longer a girl and nothing's uglier than the misogynistic cliche of simply hating someone because she's beautiful. Hmm,
are we sensing a pattern for the former stripper who wrote a column professing her love of Playboy's Hugh Hefner?



Thus, sorry Diablo Cody, it isn't Jennifer whose fangs are showing in this film but the Oscar winning writer's whose self-obsessed all Diablo-centric/all the time Entertainment Weekly column (very "Jennifer" indeed) looks like art by comparison in a movie destined to be remembered as the garbage that road the coattails of Juno.



Far more shockingly, instead of Megan Fox whom I assumed would be the film's folly as predicted since her fifteen minutes ended a long time ago to the point that there was an online media blackout on her for one day in August, it's Cody's fifteen minutes that are starting to tick by as fast as the killers pull an '80s music version of Clockwork Orange and sing "867-5309" while torturing an adolescent. Oh yeah, good times-- watch as we feel like chucking that popcorn Cody desperately wanted us to eat at the screen and retreat home to take another long hard look at Juno.




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