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.