Title: Jennifer’s Body
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Director: Karyn Kusama
Screenwriters: Diablo Cody
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody
Jennifer’s Body, Diablo Cody’s follow-up to Juno, is pitched as a horror film, and it certainly reads like one: the hottest girl in school begins to literally eat the boys who lust after her. That sets certain expectations, and the movie is already taking flak in some circles for not being particularly scary in a visceral, jump-out-of-your-pants way. They’re right; it’s not. Then again, the whole horror thing is mostly a feint here anyway. Jennifer’s Body is better characterized as a teen drama with a bloody metaphorical twist; as such, the movie witty and oddly touching, if a bit overexplicit. It’s better than Juno, I think: more layered, more interesting.
The dynamic Jennifer’s Body explores is the childhood friendship that devolves into a one-sided, parasitic relationship as the participants grow older. Needy (?) Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), who live in the middle-of-nowhere small town of Devil’s Kettle, were best sandbox pals a dozen years ago, and are still “friends” in high school. But while Needy has remained sweet, shy and pretty, Jen, now indisputably the school’s resident babe, has become a greedy, thoughtless, attention-demanding ho.
When Needy and Jen attend a concert by a hip indie rock band from the Big City, the night ends with a giant fire, and with Jen riding off in the band’s van, leaving Needy to fend for herself. When Jen returns, it quickly becomes apparent that something has gone very, very wrong. She shows up at Needy’s house in the middle of the night covered in blood… And she’s hungry.
What Jennifer later does to her victims is, of course, just a literal version of what she would have done to them anyway, with a smutty look and a cruel putdown, or, in Needy’s case, by feeding off her friend’s self-esteem until there was nothing left. One of Cody’s insights here is that Jennifer is plenty scary even before she turns into a toothy creature with a hunger for human flesh. Megan Fox, more used to being leered at by Michael Bay than to acting, is pretty good here, and certainly in her element.
Jennifer’s Body is as snarky and intensely slangy as Juno was, but Cody’s retro-hip style works better here — perhaps because the film’s genre trappings make the caricatured dialogue and glib characterizations (e.g. J.K. Simmons’ hilariously prudish, one-armed schoolteacher) easier to swallow. (Favorite line: after noting that her nails are a mess, Jennifer informs Needy that “you need to find a Chinese chick to buff your situation.”) The presence of Amanda Seyfried helps too: this is a fantastic, committed performance, selling both the film’s comic elements and Cody’s attempt to connect with real teenage fears and insecurities. (A nod, also, to Adam Brody, who gives a hilariously self-effacing turn as a mega-cool indie rocker with serious ulterior motives.)
I got wrapped up in the affectionately drawn relationships between Needy, Jen, and Needy’s kindhearted boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). Jen’s apparent new affliction all but drives Needy off the deep end, and Chip remains admirably committed — but of course, he’s attracted to Jen himself. Who isn’t? The way this plays out is, believe it or not, quite dramatically satisfying.
Directed by Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux), Jennifer’s Body is not, as people have pointed out, very scary in the way that some people demand that their horror movies be. But it works anyhow, and I think it works in precisely the way Diablo Cody intended. Teenagers don’t need sharp teeth to draw blood.