Release Date: Sept. 18
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writers: Diablo Cody
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons
Studio/Run Time: Fox Atomic, 102 mins.
Megan Fox and Diablo Cody give a new meaning to the phrase “man-eater”
Two years ago, Diablo Cody surprised audiences with her script for Juno. It was a witty and heartfelt film, and Cody’s first foray into screenwriting. Her follow-up, Jennifer’s Body, is almost entirely devoid of these traits.Rather, the opposite: it’s trite, generally predictable and crass.
Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is well aware that she’s the resident Barbie doll of her small town, Devil’s Kettle. She’s constantly adding gloss to her already-shiny, permanently pouting lips and wears as little clothing as possible (apparently Devil’s Kettle is located in the part of the country where winter jackets and barely-there skirts are a logical outfit choice). And wrapped around Jennifer’s little finger, along with the entire male population of Devil’s Kettle High, is her best friend “Needy” Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried). Unlike Jennifer, Needy keeps herself covered, wears glasses and is in a take-things-slow relationship with her beau.
Jennifer and Needy have been the very best of friends their whole lives—at least, so proclaims their matching heart-shaped “BFF” necklaces. Yet it’s clear that Needy makes more sacrifices in their friendship, and the manipulative Jennifer keeps her friend in the long shadow cast by the spotlight she lives under. Needy takes all of Jennifer’s abuse in stride because “sandbox love never dies.” The girls’ relationship becomes strained when Needy realizes that some of Jennifer’s newly-adopted quirks—like arriving at her house covered in blood and projectile-vomiting a tar-like substance—may somehow be related to the twisted murders of local young men.
Jennifer is to blame for the killings, though through no real fault of her own. When the struggling band Low Shoulder (led by an guylinered Adam Brody) comes through Devil’s Kettle, they’re on the prowl for a virgin to sacrifice to Satan, thinking they have no other chance of making it in the dog-eat-dog world of indie rock. But Jennifer hasn’t been a virgin for years, and the sacrifice turns her into a nigh-indestructible demon that needs human flesh to survive. So while Jennifer may massacre men and eat their organs, she’s also something of a victim.
After serving as Michael Bay’s puppet in two Transformers films (the audition process for which included her washing Bay’s car), Fox tries her hand at something new—acting. Anyone who thought a talented starlet was waiting to emerge will be disappointed. It’s not totally fair to judge Fox’s acting chops solely on her performance in Jennifer’s Body. Cody’s script is dripping with crude teen-speak clichés; even the impressive Seyfried and supporting cast sometimes bumble through unnatural-sounding lines.
But below the surface—albeit only ankle-deep—the film has some more substantive elements. The most well-developed subtext lies in the relationship between Needy and Jennifer. Like most close high-school friendships between girls, it is based just as much on infatuation as resentment. These two extremes play off each other as the film progresses, finally culminating in parallel scenes, one which shows the two in a physical power struggle, and another which shows them in an unnecessarily long and zoomed-in lip-lock.
There are plenty of moments where it seems like Cody would be on the right track if only she could focus her themes, but if she has a driving thesis in mind, it’s completely unraveled by the time the tacked-on ending arrives. Demon-Jennifer doesn’t just use the fact that she’s sexy to trap men, she literally becomes sexy by trapping them. Whenever she’s “hungry”—i.e., whenever it’s time for her to plot her next seduce-and-snack attack—her hair doesn’t bounce and her skin doesn’t glow. And after just one successful meal, she’s telling Needy she’s a god; she needs these men to validate her existence, and she’s tearing apart her community as she builds herself up.
But we’re led to believe that maybe this isn’t her fault; it’s the fault of big-P Patriarchy. The only reason why Jennifer thinks she needs to literally rip out these men’s hearts—and intestines and spleens—is because she herself was the prey of some mean, greedy boys who were willing to use her to reach their own ends. She’s only taking advantage of men because men have taken advantage of her.
This isn’t the only time that it’s unclear if Cody is trying to convey Something Important without being too obvious about it: Is Needy’s character supposed to show how difficult it is to establish meaningful relationships in a society that is becoming increasingly corrupt and sex-obsessed? Is it just a coincidence that all of Jennifer’s prey fit into high-school stereotypes? She’s wrestling with far too much for a 100-minute part-horror/ part-humor flick.
Jennifer’s Body could have been decent if it had had a smarter script, a more competent actress playing the titular character or stronger social commentary. It could have been brilliant if it had all three. But all that’s left is a film that feels as scattered and gutted as one of Jennifer’s victims.