Monday, 7 June 2010

Jennifer's Body (2009)

So, it looks like Megan Fox has been dumped from the Transformers franchise, after confirming to the press that Michael Bay is the thundering asshat that we all knew he was. Poor Megan Fox. Bay is a capricious and vengeful God; He giveth acting careers and He taketh them away. In the light of that news, what better time to review her 2009 Diablo-Cody-penned horror-comedy flop Jennifer's Body? Well, maybe back when it came out. Or when it came out on DVD. Or when the news about her ejection from the Transformers sequel came out a week or so ago. I only watched this movie on a whim at my sister's place a couple of days ago, so give me a break. Jesus.

Although the trailers made it seem like Megan Fox's Tits: The Movie, the main protagonist is actually her character's best friend Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried. The two are childhood friends, and have remained BFFs even though Jennifer has grown up to be a super-hot cheerleader and Needy a just-as-hot-but-wearing-dorky-glasses-and-tying-her-hair-back-so-you-know-she's-supposed-to-be-ugly nerd. One night Jennifer convinces Needy to come with her to a bar too see a lame indie rock band, but the bar catches on fire and the band kidnaps Jennifer so they can sacrifice her in a black magic ritual. The band mistakenly believe that she's a virgin (yeah right) so the sacrifice goes horribly wrong and she turns into an immortal cannibal succubus.

This is one of those allegorical horror films that's all about the trial and tribulations of being a teenage girl, like Ginger Snaps or Teeth, but it isn't as explicitly about puberty and burgeoning female sexuality except in the context of Needy and Jennifer's relationship. It's more about how Jennifer's rampant fucking/murdering drives a wedge between them and highlights the inequalities in their friendship. Needy has always been fairly indulgent and desperate for approval from Jennifer (oh, I see what you did there) and Jennifer's transformation into a sexy cannibal has only exacerbated things. For instance, Jennifer barfs evil black goo all over Needy's kitchen floor and doesn't even help clean it up. Eventually Needy realises that her friendship with Jennifer is not healthy and has to move on (by killing her).

I did appreciate that they didn't paint Needy as a desperate loser (in fact, she has a long-time boyfriend who is really sweet and probably the smartest character in the whole film) but she is a pretty passive protagonist. For most of the film she just stands around while Jennifer menaces and taunts her. Hell, when the bar catches on fire she just stands there and watches the flames spread across the ceiling beams. Do something, girl. Having such a useless protagonist really makes the middle of the film drag, but it's a nice moment at the end when she finally finds her balls. She has a Rambo-style power-up scene when she gears up for the final battle, a cliche I always love. It ends on a surprising bummer though, with Needy a violent inmate in a correctional facility. This isn't a spoiler, since it's part of the opening scene. It then flashes back to show what happened to get her there, followed immediately by a flashback within the flashback. Ouch. Shades of Dragon Wars.

In the wake of the Great Juno Backlash of '09, the studios played down Diablo Cody's involvement, but all of her trademarks are present and accounted for. Set design is a non-stop kitsch parade, with ugly wallpaper, hideous 80s style prom dresses a wide variety of ironic t-shirts. There's also gratuitous pop-culture name-dropping, for instance Needy is a big Evil Dead fan for no reason. Then, of course, there's the stylised dialog, which I didn't mind so much in Juno, but it grated on me a lot more here. A lot of this movie sounds like the executive producers brought in a focus group of teens to make the dialog sound more "real", and so the teens just started making up phony slang for shits and giggles, as is their wont. "Yeah, 'salty' is a word to describe someone who is hot. It's really popular on Twitter. You may want to include a line to explain it or the audience might get all freaktarded." Probably the biggest groaner is when Fox tells someone to "".

I think part of the reason I didn't mind the Diablo-Cody-isms in Juno is that it had a solid emotional core that seemed really sweet and genuine. This film didn't work for me on that level, so when that kind of stylised dialog runs head first into a dramatic context it's really jarring and awkward. The worst part is during a scene at a funeral for one of the victims. After a bunch of goth types spout some goofy poetry (making fun of goths? How cutting edge) the grieving mother stands up and gives an outraged speech that does not approximate anything that has been said by any human being ever. She uses terms like "I have a monopoly on pain" and describes her son's corpse as looking like "lasagna with teeth" (a line which Cody must be particularly proud of, since she uses it again later). It's pretty bad.

Also working against this movie was the unfortunate decision to focus all the marketing around Megan Fox, who had become a walking punchline by this point. Even though I don't think she's a great actress, I don't think it's fair to judge her solely on her performance in Transformers. Michael Bay's notoriously poor direction of actors is partly to blame. To her credit she's much better here, although it should be no surprise that she does an alright job at playing a creepy, emotionless sex demon. Seriously, have you looked into those eyes? She's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. She's got the emotionless, hollowed-out look of a porn star but ironically she never appears nude. Oh, except you see her ass in this one. Some of her boobs too. Have at it, boys.


Joe Scaramanga said...

Cracking stuff... a friend of mine pointed me your way with the usual "you should check this guy's blog out" nonsense.

But it appears we have much in common.

My review of Juno from a while back ( suprisingly picks on much of the stuff you mention about Cody's appalling writing style.

And you update your blog far more often than I do and for that alone you deserve applauding

Dave said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by! I actually liked Juno, even with the aggressive quirkiness and problematic stylised dialog (eg "honest to blog"). Probably not Movie of the Year in the Films of Cinema, but who gives a crap about the Oscars anyway, right?