September 14, 2009

Jennifer's Body

star

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Jennifer's Body

HORROR/COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-09-18

Running Length:

1:43

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons

Director:

Karyn Kusama

Screenplay:

Diablo Cody

Cinematography:

M. David Mullen

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


Jennifer's Body mixes, matches, and crosses three popular genres: horror, comedy, and teen angst. Unfortunately, it fails at all of them - and "fails" might be too kind a term. This movie is a spectacular disaster, the kind of thing a cat might bury in a litter box and still keep building the covering because the stench can't be smothered. There are so many things wrong with this motion picture that it might be easier to pinpoint the few elements that are right.

The film is the product of the "girl power" team of director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) and writer Diablo Cody (Juno). Neither has previously dabbled in horror and, based on the evidence at hand in Jennifer's Body, neither should be allowed near it again. Kusama comes across as a filmmaker who is playing at making an exploitation flick without having a good understanding of what the elements are and how they mesh. The tone is off throughout, like a piece of music played in the wrong key. The notes are there but the sound is dissonant. Drinking massive amounts of coffee before seeing Jennifer's Body might make it more bearable since frequent trips to the bathroom will break up the monotony.

Amanda Seyfried is Needy, a typical high school nerd girl whose best friend is the hotter-than-hot Jennifer (Megan Fox). The two are an unlikely pair, and they both know it. When they go out together, Jennifer wants Needy to look good, but not too good. Upstaging is not welcome. Needy has a boyfriend who's on her "level" - the sweet, eager Chip, who could have been played by Michael Cera if he hadn't been doing something else (instead, the job went to Johnny Simmons). One night, Jennifer drags Needy to a bar to watch the group Low Shoulder. The lead singer (Adam Brody) gives Needy the creeps but Jennifer is into him. And when she disappears in a van with the guys of Low Shoulder after their gig is abruptly ended by a fire, Needy fears the worst. But Jennifer's experiences with Low Shoulder result not in her death but her transformation into a demon that eats men (literally) as a way of maintaining her beauty and vitality.

For Diablo Cody, this represents an opportunity to prove that Juno was not a fluke. But the comfortable wit of Cody's Oscar-winning screenplay is largely absent here, although the rhythms of the dialogue indicate that she may be trying too hard. An approach that worked wonderfully in the more naturalistic environment of a low-key teen comedy fails utterly here. This is a clear case of a screenwriter attempting both to broaden her range and copy what made her successful and not succeeding in either aim.

The film's central attraction (and, some might argue, its only attraction) is Megan Fox. Before this, we have had little indication whether Fox is just another well-toned body or whether she has some acting chops to go with the grade-A abs. Michael Bay used her as eye candy, so it's not fair to judge her based on two ultra-long toy commercials. Sadly, Jennifer's Body indicates that Bay optimized Fox's exposure without unduly highlighting her flaws. Her acting is plastic and one-dimensional. Pairing her with Amanda Seyfried was probably not a good choice, because Seyfried can act, and her ability makes Fox's deficiencies more glaring. Maybe the filmmakers should have chosen Paris Hilton instead of Seyfried.

Kusama and Cody are apparently trying to make some kind of murky statement about strong, powerful women in horror movies, although their take is neither original nor interesting. Yes, the hero and villain are both women and the victims are male, but that's less unusual in the horror genre than one might suppose. There's also a resolute determination not to show any nudity. There's plenty of PG-13 teasing, including a long lesbian kiss (with tongue), but the movie's R-rating (earned because of copious gore and much profanity) makes all the covering-up seem strangely prudish, especially since this fits into the exploitation genre. Coyness does not belong in a movie like this. I have my problems with Hostel, but at least Eli Roth understood that B-grade horror comedies go all-out when it comes to gratuitous elements: gore, violence, sex, and nudity. (I assume the decision to avoid T&A is Kusama's since there are several scenes in the film where flesh could easily have been shown and one would assume, based on her past, that Cody has no problem with nudity.)

There are also editing problems. One scene attempts to create parallelism by intercutting two sex scenes but the back-and-forth shifts happen at the wrong times, breaking the flow and creating a scene that feels awkward. Jennifer's Body also struggles to figure out whether it wants to be campy or a little less flamboyant, but it never finds the right balance. It's never truly scary or funny. At the beginning, it feels amateurish, as if a bunch of people who don't have a clue about horror decided to make a movie. By the end, it's almost insulting. The movie is a trial to sit through, reminding us that just because something looks delicious doesn't mean the taste won't be rancid. If you're in search for a way to ogle Megan Fox's body, there are a lot better ways to do it than subjecting yourself to this.

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