Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J. K. Simmons. Rated R.
backlash lasted this long?
Early returns on the Rotten Tomatoes chat boards suggest so, as hysterical
fanboys take turns skewering screenwriter Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning debut and
predicting dire things indeed for her latest, the hugely entertaining
horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body
Bashing Juno? That’s so 2007. It’s
true that Cody’s dialogue is sometimes gratingly self-satisfied, laced with
glib pop-culture references and slang that sounds more scripted than organic.
That hasn’t changed. But there is something approaching brilliance in Jennifer’s
Body, her macabre tale of teenage friendship gone awry in the sleepy
backwoods of Devil’s Creek, Minnesota.
I’ve heard Jennifer described as a
cross between Evil Dead II and a John Hughes movie. That’s about right.
If you want blood, you’ll get it. But Cody and director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight)
seem less interested in cheap scares than in something more substantive:
exploring the purgatorial existence of teens caught between being kids and
“Hell is a teenage girl,” we’re told, and
witnessing the feud that estranges Jennifer (Megan Fox), a high-school alpha
female, and Needy (Amanda Seyfried, of Mamma Mia!), the BFF who has
lived in her shadow, it’s easy to believe. The story begins, not so innocently,
at the local rock club, where a band from the big city is secretly prowling for
a virgin to sacrifice. Their deal with the devil seems to be sealed when
Jennifer, unsuspecting, volunteers to ride in their van.
Jennifer is no virgin, making her sacrifice
somewhat problematic: Rather than surrendering her body to Satan, she returns
as a flesh-hungry monster. Needy is horrified, yet hope for a reconciliation
endures, even as the body count rises. Needy is everything Jennifer isn’t, and
wasn’t – approachable, loyal and timid when it comes to boys. Even with her adorably
nerdy boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), Needy is bashful.
Rather than dismiss the reborn Jennifer
outright, Needy seems to sympathize, particularly during one provocative scene
in which they kiss, at length. But when Jennifer sets her sights on Chip, all
bets are off.
The violence in Jennifer’s Body is so
over-the-top that it can’t be taken seriously, and I think that’s the point.
This is a comedy at heart, and a sharp one. Even when self-indulgent – but more
often when it’s not – Cody’s dialogue can be insightful, and Kusama frames her
story stylishly, paying homage to genre classics like Carrie and A
Nightmare on Elm Street. The movie knows its history and playfully tweaks
it, but without seeming derivative or ironically detached.
Fox, whose acting has been overshadowed in
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies by towering explosions and CGI bots,
is a natural femme fatale who is perfectly cast as the high-school
heartbreaker; she has a dismissive sneer that could bring boys of any age to
their knees. Yet it’s Seyfried, convincingly pulling off the transition from
mild-mannered innocent to Buffy-style demon slayer, who serves as Jennifer’s
rapidly beating heart. (Also excellent are J. K. Simmons, as a clueless
teacher, and Adam Brody, as the misogynist worm who – what else? – fronts an
There is tragedy in Jennifer's downfall, and in the bitter dissolution of her friendship with Needy.
But there is uplift as well. Even in hell, the ending seems to suggest, the bad guys don't always win.