In 2007 Diablo Cody and Megan Fox arrived as the new “it” girls: Diablo Cody with her Oscar winning script for Juno and Megan Fox for her role in the mega blockbuster Transformers (a.k.a. the greatest movie ever gifted to man by the gods). It didn’t take much time for just about everybody on the face of the planet to turn on both Cody and Fox. The hatred directed towards both these women is shockingly vitriolic, so much so that attaching them both to the same film seems like a deliberate challenge to prospective audiences: “Here’s our movie, go ahead, hate us.” The lascivious title and marketing made Jennifer’s Body seem like a low rent sexploitation flick. However, having feminist Karyn Kusama at the helm promises a film that may have the trappings of exploitation, but rises above it with complex subtexts and sensitive direction. Does Kusama overcome the strikes she has going against her? Let’s strip Jennifer’s Body of its façade and see what lies underneath.
From her cell in an institution, Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) narrates the story of her best friend, Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). Jennifer was a cheerleader and object of desire for most of the high school boys in the small town of Devils’ Kettle. Needy and Jennifer had been friends since their young days in the sandbox and, as we’re informed, “sandbox love lasts forever”. Jennifer has so little going for her as a person that she defines herself by how she manipulates Needy and boys. She thinks she’s worldly, but for all her pretensions she still has a small town girl’s fascination with anything from “The City”. It’s this fascination that finds her and Needy at the local dive, Melody Lane, to see a crappy emo band called Low Shoulder perform. She eats up lead singer Nikolai (Adam Brody) and his act but Needy sees right through them, especially after she overhears the band mates discuss whether Jennifer is a virgin (by Jennifer’s own admission she’s not even a “back door” virgin). During the performance, Melody Lane inexplicably catches fire. A dazed Jennifer is whisked away from the carnage in Low Shoulder’s sketchy tour van. Jennifer shows up at Needy’s house hours later, dazed and covered in blood. She gorges herself on chicken from the fridge and then vomits black tar all over the place (something she’s probably used to) before leaving Needy to clean up the mess.
In the wake of the fire the school is plagued by overwhelming touchy feeliness as well as a rash of male student deaths that seem to coincide with the up cycles of Jennifer’s now manic-depressive moods. Needy soon learns the truth about what happened after the fire. Turns out that in addition to being a shitty emo band, Low Shoulder are also shitty Satanists who wanted to sacrifice a virgin in exchange for wealth and fame. Problem is, Jennifer wasn’t a virgin (not even a back door one) and instead of dying she became possessed by a demon that needs (or simply wants) to feed on human boys. Now that Needy knows the truth she plans to stop Jennifer. What better place to do that than that Mecca of American teenage society: the prom? Jennifer, however, has other plans. She intercepts Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) on his way to the prom and makes a midnight snack of him. Needy arrives just in time to share a last word with dying Chip. Then she has to execute a second plan to destroy the evil creature that Jennifer has become.
I’ve never fully understood what the genesis of the backlash against Diablo Cody was. While Cody is certainly not above reproach, a lot of the criticisms leveled at her seem unfair and hypocritical to me. Okay, sure, her dialogue can be achingly “precious” at times, but is it really more difficult to listen to than Kevin Smith’s, or the average Joss Whedon snark-fest? Not really. With Whedon and Smith perhaps it’s their time toiling in the indies that earns them their free pass, while Cody’s first produced screenplay won her an Oscar. There’s nothing as shrill or righteously indignant as a fanboy or girl who feels that his or her personal pet filmmaker has been wronged. Or maybe it’s just flat out sexism, like how dare a woman try and write witty, pop culture savvy dialogue without resorting to dick and fart jokes (Smith’s stock in trade)?
It’s no coincidence that the hot, popular girl with self esteem issues gets “possessed” by a demon. A big part of demonic lore is that the possessed needs to “invite the demon in”, which is suiting given Jennifer’s promiscuity and insecurity. Further reinforcing this the large, phallic Bowie knife that Nikolai uses to sacrifice Jennifer.
The film most pointedly pokes fun at the bizarre Middle American fixation with 9/11. There is a reference to a 9/11-tribute shooter and the aftermath of the fire is followed by candle light vigils, sing-a-longs and memorials lined with wilting flowers. Most explicitly Mr. Wroblewski (J.K. Simmons), the science teacher, says: “We can’t let that fire win!” to which Jennifer awesomely responds: “It already did.” It’s an interesting observation on how certain communities fetishize grief, or use tragedy to forge a collective identity.
Although it is rich with subtext, on a surface narrative level, there are a more than a few blemishes. In the commentary Kusama and Cody claim it is by design, but how the fire at Melody Lane actually starts is never explained. It’s essentially the inciting incident of the movie so whether or not they prefer the ambiguity, it’s important for the audience to have some kind of explanation.
At one hour and forty-two minutes (or forty-seven minutes if you’re watching the director’s cut) Jennifer’s Body is a bit too long. You can certainly feel it in the midsection as the pace sags and the metaphors introduced in the beginning are pushed to the breaking point. They also seem to be going for a transcendent, Fountain-esque ending that doesn’t quite come together. It recovers a bit during the final showdown, but the final reel feels like more than a bit of an anti climax.
Megan Fox gets a lot of flack for her acting abilities. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you put the right person in the right role, they’re acting ability is irrelevant. If Jennifer Check isn’t the role Fox was born to play, then I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s just my own personal bias at work, but I’ve always felt that her earnestness in the Transformers movies felt really artificial. Here, she’s allowed to be a sassy megabitch and she’s totally convincing in the role. She’s also a lot of fun to watch. Surprisingly, however, Fox is totally upstaged by the dewy eyed Amanda Seyfried. Seyfried has long shown promise as an actress, but with Jennifer’s Body she’s officially arrived. The role of Needy isn’t as showy as Jennifer, but it runs a bigger emotional spectrum and is the film’s anchor. We see things through her eyes. The film would collapse if she weren’t up to the task. Luckily, she’s more than capable. It’s no surprise that the next few months are lined with vehicles designed to propel Seyfried to mega stardom.
I’ll be honest; I was a bit disappointed by the video quality here. While the 1.85:1 1080p AVC picture is generally pretty good, it’s a bit soft at times with muted colors and fine object detail getting lost in black crush. The day scenes look amazing, though, especially an energetic zoom in across an empty football field. The detail and color in this shot is amazing. When I was screen capping, there were a few frames where the color and tint seemed to be way off. Images would have bright green halos to one side for a frame or two. I didn’t notice it on either of my TV displays, so this could just be an artifact of the screen capping process. Not horrible, but disappointing for so new a movie.
The audio is a bit better, but still not quite up to my expectations. For the most part, it’s loud and bassy with only decent surround effects. There’s not much in the way of panning effects and even ambient sounds are difficult to discern over the front heavy dialogue and effects. Considering the role that music plays in the story, this serviceable DTS-HD 7.1 track is a bit of a missed opportunity.
There’s quite an extensive supplemental package included here, but it’s a mixed bag.
To start there are two different versions of the film included; The theatrical version and the extended director’s cut that runs about five minutes longer. The alternate cut is presented in a slightly disingenuous way; despite the extra five minutes, and some 70 changes made, there’s no extra added gore or nudity. It’s more of a refined cut with a few trims here and there and a few scene extensions added back in. I can’t say that either cut is terribly different but I’m always in favor of a director being able to have their preferred version available.
On the theatrical cut we have a feature-length audio commentary with director Karyn Kusama and writer Diablo Cody. Their discussion is engaging; they talk about characters and theme rather than nuts and bolts filmmaking or production anecdotes. However, as the film runs on, the silent stretches get longer and longer. I’m not sure why studios get talent to do audio commentaries before they’re had a chance to see the final cut of the film. On the extended cut Kusama contributes commentary only to the scenes that have been changed. If you activate the commentary option, an on screen prompt will pop up during the new scenes and the commentary will kick in. Kind of redundant, but okay.
Next is a featurette Jennifer’s Body: The Dead Pool (14:00). The focus here is on staging the showdown between Jennfier and Needy at an abandoned swimming pool. It’s pretty good, and fans will appreciate seeing how KNB’s effects were integrated with CG work, but most of the topics covered could have been the subject of their own featurette. As it stands, this feels really slight and superficial.
Next we have a cute Megan Fox PSA (0:40) that was used in the promotion of the film. As far as promotional materials go, this is one of the best I’ve seen since those Fight Club teasers.
I’d recommend skipping the Video Diaries (12:51) - fluffy, annoying behind the scenes clips framed with a ridiculously juvenile border made to look like doodled-on foolscap. Ugh.
Megan Fox is Hot (0:56) is a Megan Fox highlight reel for people who don’t want to bother watching the actual movie, I guess. Useless.
Fox Movie Channel Presents Life After Film School (26:26) is probably the best extra of the bunch. A fairly in depth interview with Diablo Cody conducted by recent film school grads (or actors posing as film school grads) it covers the span of her career from being a copy typist at an ad firm to an Oscar winning screenwriter. Cody is fun to listen to and seems really down to Earth despite her hipster image.
Finally we have a collection of Deleted Scenes. Some of the included material is reinstated into the extended cut. Most was obviously cut with good reason though anyone bemoaning the fact that the feature is essentially nudity free will find the requisite tit shot here (not Megan or Amanda’s, sorry).
In the end, Jennifer’s Body doesn’t blaze any new trails in either teen comedy or teen horror and it’s not as gory or as funny as I would have liked. It is, however, a fun flick with a bit more going on beneath the surface than you’d expect. It’s written with wit, directed with style and performed with gusto. It also improves with repeat viewing. The video quality is a tad lacking, but that’s compensated for by the inclusion of a good commentary and an alternate version. If you really hate Diablo Cody or Megan Fox then I highly doubt that there’s anything in this movie that’s going to change your mind. If you were on the fence about them collaborating on a horror flick and have remained open minded, then Jennifer’s Body is highly recommended.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Nice review,Chunkblower.I believe this is the first I've read of yours,and I appreciated the way you scratched the surface past the the blatant metaphors, ( popular girl literally devouring the student body) to those of fetishized grief within a community,etc. I too though JB could have been gorier and more outrageous,but enjoyed the snarky bitch black humor on display here. The flick possesses surprising replay value,if only as background noise.
The back cover says the movie has "gore galore".*sigh* If only that was true.Regardless, I think I'll buy it anyway.You made it sound like it's good enough 4 me.
Great review, but Im surprised u didn't mention anything about the lesbo-action (the now famous kiss).
NightAndFog, sometimes a picture can speak a thousand words. :D
Love the movie. Rented it, and especially love the scene, about 58 minutes into the movie. I WANT THE EVIL DEAD LONG SLEEVE SHIRT. I already have the tattoo and one short sleeve shirt, but need the Long Sleeve Shirt. I think it was a little better than Zombieland.
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