Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jennifer's Body [movie review]

* Released theatrically in September; available on DVD December 29th
From big buzz to flaccid flameout. Expectations ran high for Jennifer's Body before the movie hit theatres in September, due to the double-barreled presence of hot it-girl actress Megan Fox and screenwriter Diablo Cody, in her first screenplay since winning an Oscar for Juno. Upon release, it was savaged by critics with the same zeal demonstrated by Fox's boy hungry (literally) demonic character, failing to draw a mass audience. Truthfully, the film isn't as bad as you've heard, although it's still a bit of a coin toss as to whether or not it's worth your time.
Jennifer's Body is an updated take on the exploration of burgeoning female sexuality, using classic horror movie devices as metaphors in its telling. Call it a coming of (carn)age film. The story: Jennifer Check (Fox) and Anita "Needy" Lesnicky (played by Amanda Seyfried from Mama Mia!) are unlikely best friends. Jennifer is a gorgeous alpha female who is on the cheerleading squad and is fully aware of the power those attributes have over young men. Needy is relatively plain looking, awkward, bookish and, well, needy (Cody wasn't exactly being subtle here) for the friendship Jennifer provides, while offering her the opportunity to exist in the fringes of a social status orbit that would otherwise relegate her to complete loserdom. The friendship between the two struggles to feel realistic, despite Needy's voiceover explanation that "sandbox love never dies". The two attend a concert at a local club featuring indie rock band Low Shoulder, which is disrupted when a fire (evoking unsettling memories of the Great White fire from 2003) breaks out. Following the mayhem, Jennifer gets into the band's creepy stalker van and they drive off, with an ominous experience awaiting her arrival. Said experience turns her into a bloodthirsty demon and Needy must spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out a way to reign in her friend and protect her own boyfriend (Chip, played by Johnny Simmons in a funny performance capturing the awkwardness of both young love and young lust).
Fox proves she can contribute a little more to a film than just existing as eye candy, as most of her previous roles have shown (even by her own admission), notably in the two craptastic Transformers movies. Yes, her character in this film relies heavily on her looks, but there's a bitchy, evil quality to her that demand at least some level of skill in an effort to render Jennifer as something more than just one dimensional, which Fox pulls off with some degree of success. Much of this comes from her sharp, profane dialogue. Like Juno, Jennifer's Body is heaped with pop culture references and edgy humour that entertains, yet fails to really ring true. Examples: "PMS isn't real. It was invented by the boy-run media to make us seem crazy", "the whole country is getting a huge tragedy boner from all of this" (in regard to the media attention following the club fire and a killing spree) and one of the killing victims is described as looking like "lasagna with teeth". Cody's constant witticisms leave just a little too much of an imprint, disrupting the flow with a "Hey, that was another classic Diablo Cody zinger!" vibe. Besides that, there are also scenes that confuse and some plot holes you could drive a truck through. How did the fire start and why do the people in the club take so long to react to it? Why is the weird telepathic power Needy has with Jennifer so random? Jennifer can feed any time she wants so why is so much importance placed on her doing it at the prom? To her credit though, Cody makes imaginative use of Tommy Tutone's 80's hit "867-5309/Jenny" during one scene.
The humour is dark, the horror is fairly tame, and what Jennifer's Body revels in most is its trashiness, which is a pretty thin base on which to support a movie.
Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆