SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
For a movie that was written by Diablo Cody, whose Oscar win for Juno (over “lesser” films like Michael Clayton - OK, Academy) remains the 2nd most appalling moment in Oscar history (after a tie for every award Crash won two years before), and stars Adam Brody, whom I’ve wanted to smack in the face since the first spot for The OC aired on TV, and Megan Fox, a pretty but completely annoying woman who recently compared my boy to Hitler, it’s a wonder I was able to even sit through Jennifer’s Body, let alone mostly enjoy it. It just proves once and for all that a little Raimi-style gore and mean-spirited humor can improve even the direst of situations.
And dire it is at times, particularly in the lackluster finale. The next two paragraphs contain minor spoilers, so skip them if you want to be surprised while you’re being underwhelmed.
See, the whole movie is really about Needy, Jennifer’s best friend (played by Amanda Seyfried, who unlike Fox manages to make Cody’s pop-laced dialogue work most of the time). The film starts off with her in an institution for unknown crimes, but once we find out what she did, it’s not only a weak reveal but it also lacks any sort of thematic payoff for what the film is really about, which is their strained friendship. In fact the ending as a whole lacks any sort of real panache; there is a threat that Jennifer is going to go apeshit at the school dance, but she never even gets there. They even have the band show up at the dance, presumably to either try their sacrifice again and/or allow Jennifer to get revenge on them, but they are brought up on stage and then never mentioned again during the evening. I won’t spoil everything, but everything about the final 10 minutes feels largely incomplete; like the script had to be 90 pages and Cody realized at page 85 that she had to wrap things up. And certain events further hammer home a notion that I had for most of the film, which is that Fox’s top billing had more to do with enticing horny young men into the theaters than it did screen-time or even character importance. Seyfried is front and center for nearly every scene, and the film is told entirely through her eyes.
Also, there is this nonsensical subplot about how the town has a waterfall where the water seemingly disappears into a black hole. We see scientists studying it and throwing orange balls (presumably with some sort of tracking device?) into it. Yet, it just washes out to the side of the road somewhere nearby. Not only does this feel completely stupid (scientists never bothered to check a large drainage ditch?) but it’s also just a really lazy way for Needy to find an important item later. It’s so half-assed that I actually considered whether it was a parody of deus ex machinas. Similarly, most of the finale takes place in an abandoned pool that has become overgrown with trees and various other greenery. which is certainly an interesting visual, but it simply makes no sense (and doesn’t have any sort of setup, not even a throwaway line explaining its current state. It just IS, for some reason). For a Oscar-winning screenwriter’s followup, it’s a shockingly lackluster script.
But despite all of that, it’s passable entertainment for sure. The biggest surprise is Brody. As I said earlier, I’m no fan of the guy, but he’s probably the best part of the movie. His Brandon Flowers-esque appearance alone is worth a few chuckles, as are a few of his off-the-cuff remarks (he bemoans that the only way an indie rock band can make it these days is to land a song on some shitty soundtrack - a line that took on extra hilarious meaning today due to the fact that an appearance by Panic! At The Disco seemed to be drawing in more fans than anyone involved with the film proper). I also loved the cameo turn by JK Simmons (with hair!) as a whacked out teacher who mistakes the school jock’s death screams as tears of sorrow. There’s also a most appreciated cameo by a genre veteran at the end of the film that I rightfully applauded. And while the referential dialogue is as grating as ever, there’s a mean streak to some of it that made up for it, such as when Brody and his band sing an impromptu rendition of “Jenny” before sacrificing a crying Jennifer to Satan. And Seyfried’s boyfriend (Johnny Simmons) is a charming little bastard, playing the voice of reason throughout the film and getting most of the traditional laughs (“You HAVE to go to the dance, I bought you a corsage and it was like 12 dollars!”).
Speaking of the laughs, I think the film plays better as a comedy than a horror film. The horror angle is not only poorly executed (for an R rated “horror” movie, it sure is short on on-screen carnage and kills - Prom Night (2008) boasts a higher body count) but largely unoriginal - enjoy your flashbacks to The Faculty, Carrie, Slither, and (big time) Ginger Snaps. But the comedy only rarely falls flat, and I laughed out loud several times, as did the audience, which ran the gamut from “passholes” to press to studio folk to teenyboppers. Ironically, the only big joke dud I can recall is the “not high school evil” line, which FOX (the studio - is this the only film where the film’s star shares a name with the distributor?) seems to be making their entire ad campaign around; I don’t think a single person laughed.
Oh and there’s a brief lesbian makeout between Fox and Seyfried. With tongue. Hey, I’m not COMPLETELY impervious to audience pandering.
As for Fox, well, what does it matter? She can’t act, but no one seems to mind in the Transformers movies, so why should it matter here? She’s actually a bit better here than in those films, probably because an insecure object of desire is a bit closer to her comfort zone. She struggles with Cody’s “witty” dialogue at times, as if she doesn’t understand the references that she is making (nor do I, at times - so I can forgive her some). But I am curious how the film would have fared with a better actress in the role, one who could not only deliver the dialogue, but also find a way to make the audience feel sympathetic for her character. Her public persona overshadows her limited acting skills, and her public persona is that of a stuck-up primadonna. Likewise, I’m also curious if the film would have been made at all if they couldn’t land Fox or an equally marketable actress; there is nothing in the film that convinces me that the movie was made for any other reason than the “dream team” of “Oscar-winner writer” and “superbabe star”.
Basically, it’s the type of movie I wish I saw when I was 14. Still a virgin, still watching films without paying much attention to things like plot holes and undeveloped character dynamics (the movie never bothers to explain why Jennifer “needs” Needy), and without the exposure to great horror-comedy blends (such as American Werewolf, which also deals with a friendship strained by one of them turning into a monster), I’d have loved it then and been defending it now due to my nostalgia. For the 14 year olds today, let’s hope they have a theater with a lax policy on letting them into R rated movies (by the way - it’s mostly for language; there’s no real nudity and half of the kills are off-screen, the other half no more graphic than Drag Me To Hell), because other than those who blindly love anything with Fox in it, they are likely to enjoy the film the most. Everyone else, I think as long as you go in expecting a comedy (which I did) you will probably have fun but also forget everything about it in a few days.
What say you?