Jennifer’s Body

Movie Information

The Story: The hottest girl in school becomes possessed by a demon and it's up to her nerdy best friend to set things right. The Lowdown: Neither entirely successful as horror or comedy, Jennifer's Body is still an interesting film with more on its mind than its detractors claim.
Score:

Genre: Horror/Comedy
Director: Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux)
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris
Rated: R

While Jennifer’s Body is hardly a great movie, it also isn’t nearly as bad as it’s been painted in some quarters. The Diablo Cody screenplay isn’t as good as the one for Juno, but it’s not dissimilar and has its share of memorable lines. Megan Fox is no better than you’d expect, but she’s effectively cast to her limitations. The horror element is no great shakes, but let’s face it, that can be said of most straight horror films these days—and, after all, it’s not meant to be taken seriously here. The biggest problem with the movie is that—apart from the shocking revelation that J.K. Simmons in a curly wig looks alarmingly like the late Sydney Pollack—it does just what the trailer promised and nothing more.

So why the fairly strong negative reaction from critics? My guess is that a lot of it is Diablo Cody backlash. She was too popular too fast on the strength of her Juno screenplay, and there’s a sense of putting her “in her place” with her sophomore effort (even though this was written first). Plus, a percentage of the attitude was already in place from the “real people don’t talk like that” school of criticism, which overlooks the fact that real conversation is rarely entertaining—not to mention that Cody is making fun of high-school clique-speak, not trying to ape it. At the same time, Jennifer’s Body is more adequate than inspired—and a few bon mots shy of originality. Graft a horror story onto Heathers (1988), and you’ve pretty much got this movie.

The premise has it that Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) has been attached at the hip to the more attractive Jennifer Check (Fox) since early childhood. Even though—or because—Needy knows that Jennifer is self-absorbed and shallow, she constantly cuts her friend a great deal of slack, which comes to a head when Jennifer runs off with a creepy rock band and reappears possessed by a demon. Despite her better judgment, Needy opts to overlook her friend’s peculiar change—until Jennifer starts devouring the male populace. Since the film is structured as a tale being told by Needy from the confines of a padded cell, it’s not hard to tell where the tale is going.

That said, there are some interesting points along the way—not the least of which is that Cody realizes that Needy isn’t the needy one. That honor goes to Jennifer and her desire to be the hottest and coolest girl in school. It’s constantly suggested that Needy views herself as Jennifer’s one-girl support group, even in the full knowledge of her friend’s limitations. This is even clear on some level to Jennifer, who—even in demonic form—is about as bright as she is secure. Their relationship is interesting in other ways, too, since it’s casually lesbian in nature, despite all the boys involved. When Needy breaks away from a Sapphic encounter with Jennifer, it’s not because of the encounter, but because of Jennifer’s murderous activities.

No, Jennifer’s Body is never as frightening as it should be, and it’s certainly never as hip and funny as it would like to be, but neither is it a disaster. With a better director than Karyn Kusama—whose direction of the 2005 dud Aeon Flux suggests a filmmaker with little sense of intentional humor—it might have worked much better. (What Jason Reitman did with Cody’s Juno screenplay has always been undervalued.) Still, that doesn’t keep Jennifer’s Body from being more interesting and more on target than has been claimed. Rated R for sexuality, bloody violence and brief drug use.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

22 thoughts on “Jennifer’s Body

  1. Sean Williams

    J.K. Simmons in a curly wig looks alarmingly like the late Sydney Pollack

    And now I’m going to have nightmares for weeks.

    “real people don’t talk like that”

    I’ve always found this criticism wrong-headed, first of all because, as you said, real conversation is seldom interesting, and second of all because when I was in high school, my friends and I most certainly did talk like that.

    Perhaps Ms. Diablo and I traveled in similar circles.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ve always found this criticism wrong-headed, first of all because, as you said, real conversation is seldom interesting, and second of all because when I was in high school, my friends and I most certainly did talk like that.

    Then too, one of the most entertaining aspects of Rian Johnson’s Brick is that the high school kids talk like characters out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. People don’t talk like characters in a Preston Sturges movie or a Coen Bros. or a Wes Anderson picture. And why not? Because it wouldn’t be entertaining if they did.

  3. Dread P. Roberts

    Then too, one of the most entertaining aspects of Rian Johnson’s Brick is that the high school kids talk like characters out of a Dashiell Hammett novel.

    This was instantly what came to my mind when I read this. For those that care, don’t forget that Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom will be available (apparently, strictly for rent for now) next Tuesday! Of course, I imagine that Ken will be kind of enough to remind the ignorant of this come Tuesday.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Of course, I imagine that Ken will be kind of enough to remind the ignorant of this come Tuesday.

    Did you seriously doubt this?

  5. Dread P. Roberts

    Did you seriously doubt this?

    No, not at all. I merely remembered after I started to put forth this info, that you give a weekly update. It was a very short delay in memory, but a delay nonetheless.

  6. “real people don’t talk like that”
    If people in the entertainment industry thought like that, Aaron Sorkin wouldn’t have a single produced writing credit.

  7. Sean Williams

    And why not? Because it wouldn’t be entertaining if they did.

    One could apply the same principle to storytelling as a whole: it has to be realistic enough to be credible, but better-structured and more consistently engaging than real life.

  8. Ken Hanke

    better-structured and more consistently engaging than real life.

    “Even the worst movie is at least better than real life.” — Quentin Crisp

  9. Sean Williams

    I was going to agree with that quote.

    But then I remembered Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I don’t have all the listings at hand yet, but it looks very much like come Friday, this is out of here.

  11. monescu

    One could apply the same principle to storytelling as a whole: it has to be realistic enough to be credible, but better-structured and more consistently engaging than real life.

    This falls in line with a little maxim I arrived at recently (I realize that it sounds a bit little one of Larry Gelbart’s smug “rules” of comedy, but I really do think it is fairly sound): It is the aim of all popular fiction to strike a pleasing balance between that which we experience in life, and that which we don’t experience in life. Too far in either direction finds us disengaged either out of boredom or an inability to identify with the work (or its characters).

  12. Ken Hanke

    It is the aim of all popular fiction to strike a pleasing balance between that which we experience in life, and that which we don’t experience in life. Too far in either direction finds us disengaged either out of boredom or an inability to identify with the work (or its characters).

    As long as you leave the word “popular” in there, I suspect that’s pretty much true. Either option, however, is permissible within the limitations of specific audiences. My threshold for boredom with the ultra-realistic is much lower than my threshold for disengagement by a thing or its characters being too outre.

    By the way, are you the man who walked into the Bank of Monte Carlo and walked out with the Bank of Monte Carlo?

  13. monescu

    Mais Oui! I realized that even fewer readers would pick up on the Freddy Bastion reference here than they would on the Scarlet Street Forums (not helped by the fact that it should actually be FreddIE Bastion, thus making it all the more obscure).

    As for the “popular fiction” thing, keep in mind that, when we’re talking about the What-we-experience-in-life / What-we-don’t-experience-in-life spectrum, the far end of the latter side is not occupied by outre characters who are hard to identify with– that’s just partway down toward that end– but rather with things and events we can’t identify at all– as they say, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Even UN CHIEN ANDALOU (and the like) gave us much more that was accessible.

  14. Saw this the other day and thought it was tremendous fun. I remain a big Diablo Cody fan, between this, JUNO and THE UNITED STATES OF TARA.
    Is it just me, or could a comparison be made between the casting of Megan Fox in this and the casting of Adam Sandler in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE? Both are essentially trading on their existing cinematic personas and deconstructing those personas at the same time. This film doesn’t reach anywhere near the level of PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, but it has far less lofty goals, and Megan Fox’s screen persona has a lot less going on to deconstruct than Sandler’s did.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Megan Fox has a screen persona? I thought she was just a fairly generic “hot babe.”

    I see your point, but the Sandler thing seems to me more a case of getting down to the essence of the anger in his comedies. I’m not sure if that’s a deconstruction or something else.

  16. I thought she was just a fairly generic “hot babe.”
    Well, in essence that is her screen persona. She seems to be the ultimate personification of this for many out there today, especially of my generation. Her casting as the sexiest, most desired thing around in this film is akin to Raquel Welch as Lust in BEDAZZLED. It goes a step further here – ‘Cody realizes that Needy isn’t the needy one. That honor goes to Jennifer and her desire to be the hottest and coolest girl in school.’ Rather than just presenting her as personification of desire, the film gives her a characterisation which is totally undesirable – vacuous, insecure and homicidal.

  17. DrSerizawa

    The premise has it that Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) has been attached at the hip to the more attractive Jennifer Check (Fox) since early childhood.

    There’s the first big mistake. Note to Megan Fox: for the sake of your career don’t appear on screen with other women who are more talented and better looking. Those glasses did nothing to hide this fact.

    Your review of this is spot-on. I give it just a bit more credit but I’m a sucker for supernatural horror movies over the burned to death slasher/psychopath genre. Even a bad succubus movie is okay in my book. Though Jennifer surprised me by carrying her part pretty well. I expected to hate her but instead unaccountable enjoyed her performance. I guess that says a lot about the guy who directed those Transformers movies.

    Now if they could just have worked in a stampede of demonic monkeys…….

Leave a Reply