Posted: 09/19/2009

 

Jennifer’s Body

(2009)

by Matt Fagerholm




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Just as Quentin Tarantino embodied the voice of the video store generation, Diablo Cody represents the current era of Internet-fueled narcissistic indulgence. They are both incapable of writing a line of dialogue that isn’t colored by their pop culture savviness and distinctive verbal style. No matter what actor is hired to recite their dialogue, these screenwriters/personalities are always the stars of their own films. And if Juno was Cody’s Pulp Fiction, then Jennifer’s Body is her Death Proof. Everything that was fresh and charming about her previous work has become, in the span of just one movie, stale and irritating. How can this be?

Of course, Juno would not have been the surprise critical and financial success that it was without the contributions of director Jason Reitman and actress Ellen Page. Cody’s original intention was to make a darker, more biting high school satire, complete with a hardcore punk rock soundtrack. It was Page’s idea to use The Moldy Peach’s quirky/cuddly tune “Anyone Else But You, which ended up becoming the film’s anthem. Reitman sought to find the heart within the self-conscious cleverness of Cody’s script, and transformed the film into a sentimental crowd-pleaser. Page utilized the stylish wordplay as a shield for her precocious character to use against the world, in order to mask her inner vulnerabilities. Every teenager could relate to her tour-de-force portrayal, and Cody certainly wouldn’t have won an Oscar without it.

It will be interesting to see how Juno’s trifecta of talent fares in their respective projects this awards season, with Reitman’s Up in the Air and Page’s Whip It garnering great festival buzz. Jennifer’s Body, however, is a disappointment on nearly every level. It’s probably closer in spirit to Cody’s original vision of Juno, with its jet-black R-rated humor and bombastic soundtrack featuring bands like Panic at the Disco and Dashboard Confessional (Kimya Dawson is conspicuously absent). It’s a horror-comedy in the tradition of Carrie, and like most films in that tradition, it falls far short of De Palma’s satirical brilliance. Cody once again ventures into the hormonal world of “sexually active” high schoolers, but this time her characters feel more like gimmicks than actual people. That’s the scariest part of this otherwise dreary dud.

Neither Megan Fox nor Amanda Seyfried come close to what Page achieved in Juno, but they never had a chance with such subpar material. It’s nice to see Fox toy with her eye candy persona as Jennifer, the lone reigning bitch of her class who’s eagerly followed by her lifelong friend subtly named Needy (played by the voluptuous Seyfried, who hides behind thick glasses and frizzy hair in an unsuccessful attempt to pass herself off as “plain”). The film opens with the line, “Hell is a teenage girl,” which easily could’ve been Carrie’s tagline. But Cody’s script cops out by making Jennifer’s bloodthirsty powers not the inner result of teenage cruelty, but the silly plot-driven result of a botched ritual sacrifice by an evil Emo band. To make a ludicrous story blessedly short, the oversexed Jennifer is mistaken for a virgin, which causes the sacrifice to go horribly awry, turning the bitchy girl into an even bitchier demon that feasts on the flesh of boys.

Sure, this premise has potential to effectively satirize the predatory nature of teenage girls, and their desire to seduce and “devour” unsuspecting males. But director Karyn Kusama hammers the sociological metaphors into the ground until the audience simply wants to shout, “We get it!” Deprived of its bouncy rhythm, Cody’s dialogue lands with an embarrassing thud, as quips like “Nice hardware, Ace,” and “Move on dot org, Needy!” elicit little more than tired groans. There’s something wrong when even the great character actor J.K. Simmons, equipped with an Irish accent, fails to offer much amusement. Watching Jennifer’s Body is a depressingly somber experience, since it illustrates how one of the industry’s brightest and most original voices can so quickly fall into the trap of mediocrity. Diablo Cody is an exceptionally intelligent talent, and she will hopefully triumph again. In the meantime, any moviegoer seeking a superior feminist horror/comedy should look no further than Teeth, last year’s spectacularly ballsy satire in which no man’s “pork sword” was safe.

Matt Fagerholm Matt Fagerholm is a freelance writer, film enthusiast and critic in Chicago.



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