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Jennifer's Body, 2009

Dragged Me Through Hell

The movie stars Megan Fox as Jennifer, the hot, popular cheerleader at Devil’s Kettle High. Her best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), is—well, I don’t know what she is; she’s the bookish nerd girl in one scene, and a sexually demanding girlfriend in the next. All of the high schoolers in this picture are painted in the broad, messy strokes of an Archie comic; from the dumb jock to the emo-goth kid, no archetype is spared. But the key to any good high school movie is to show how these archetypes’ cliques evolve, interact, and change the people who exist in them; in this movie, characters simply bump up against each other when the story demands it; there’s no social context to help explain some of the truly bizarre motives we’re asked to accept.

Moving on…

Jennifer and Needy head to the town bar to see a hot, new band called Low Shoulder. They flirt with the lead singer (The O.C.’s Adam Brody in a performance unworthy of his role), drink, and rock along to more some Top 40 emo. A spontaneous fire breaks out, killing most of the bar’s patrons. Jennifer, Needy, and Low Shoulder escape, and Jennifer hops into the band’s van because—she’s drunk? I’ll leave that as a question because later on, we see what happened in the van and she looked all-too aware of her situation.

Needy returns home and calls her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), to tell him what happened. She hears something downstairs and, on investigating, finds Jennifer in the kitchen, twitching and bloodied and vomiting animated black goo. We later discover that Jennifer has been murdered and possessed by a demon that devours boys in order to stay powerful and youthful-looking. The rest of the movie sees Needy trying to stop her best friend and save her school, town, world, whatever. If you’ve seen any horror movies or the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, you know exactly where this thing is headed.

So, I’ll resume talking about the film’s numerous problems. Seriously, there’s more bad than good here; and it’s stunning how swiftly the poor writing ruins every single aspect of the movie. Let’s start with the dialogue. Cody’s Juno was known both for its “honest” portrayal of teen pregnancy and for its snappy, pop-cult dialogue. If you’re like me and found the banter to be uninspired, grating, and ridiculous, you should stay away from Jennifer’s Body. I’ve heard Juno defenders claim that teenagers really talk the way Cody writes them; but if high school students really do greet each other with “Hey, Vagisil,” or call everything “salty” and “freak-tarded”—unless it’s one of the numerous subjects that can be expounded upon with a menstruation reference—then I think we should stop worrying about universal health care and just euthanize anyone under the age of twenty (at least in the movies). I have no problem with cutting, hip dialogue, but it must be effective and relatable—which is to say, used sparingly—or at the very least, smart.

But that’s the core of the film’s problem: it’s not smart. Sure, it presents a lot of great ideas, but it makes no effort to meld them or take them beyond the concept stage. For example, we learn that Jennifer’s soul is intertwined with that of the demon because Low Shoulder screwed up the ritual sacrifice. What does that mean? Is part of Jennifer still inside her own skin? Or is the demon just using her as a meat puppet? Where does the demon come from? Does it really just want to eat boys, or is there a motive beyond that of a generic comic book villain? Instead of answers, we get “comic relief” in the form of J.K. Simmons playing a teacher with a hook-hand and the same SNL Minnesota accent he used to phone in on New in Town.

I mentioned the flimsy character relationships earlier. The weakest one in the movie is the one between Jennifer and Needy—not a good sign. We know they’ve been friends since early childhood, but there’s no effort to show why they drifted apart over the years (or why there seems to be a weird love triangle with Chip, or what the deal is with their pseudo-lesbian tendancies). Even the average CW high school drama will throw in a line of dialogue to address this, but Jennifer’s Body ignores the issue completely. There are no real relationships in this movie; only interactions between blabbermouth plot devices with acne.

There are only two redeeming things about Jennifer’s Body. The first is that it will make you appreciate good writing; knock TV shows like One Tree Hill and 90210 all you like, but they manage to paint more realistic portrayals of teen angst than anything Diablo Cody has written or is likely to write. And those shows are free. More than anything, though, I was reminded of Heathers—it’s impossible not to think of that movie, as it’s obviously the template for this one—a brilliant satire that weaved plot, character, and, yes, funky dialogue into a smart tapestry of mean. I’m sure Diablo Cody has watched Heathers, like, a bazillion times; I’m also sure she has no idea what makes it work.

I’d like to give a brief shout-out to Veronica Mars, the short-lived television masterpiece (seasons one and two, anyway) that took the Heathers formula and one-upped it with on-going murder mysteries to breathtaking results. Two cast members from that show are featured in Jennifer’s Body (Seyfried and Kyle Gallner, playing the goth kid), and I replayed a few episodes in my head while waiting for something compelling to happen in the movie theatre.

The second solid aspect of Jennifer’s Body the ritual sacrifice scene. It is the one well-written, tense moment of the film in which Jennifer is tied to a rock by a natural whirlpool and taunted by the clueless members of Low Shoulder. I couldn’t believe that such an inspired three minutes had made its way into the movie, and I soaked up every second. Adam Brody brought cheeky menace to the moments leading up to the murder and Megan Fox proved that she might have an acting career someday.

The only solace I can take is that the movie opened somewhat poorly. I’m sure Fox Atomic expected better than a fifth-place debut behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Love Happens. It serves them right for thinking that audiences would accept a cheap brand (Cody) slapped on cheaper horror. Fans of horror and teen films have a high tolerance for glossy, cute shit, but there has to be something honest and alive under the skin.

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