Monday, January 11, 2010

Jennifer's Body

Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody, Johnny Simmons

Running Time: 107 min.

Rating: Unrated

★★ (out of ★★★★)

The teen horror/comedy Jennifer's Body does little in answering the big question percolating in everyone's minds: Can Megan Fox act? What it does instead is somehow make that question even less relevant than it already was before. Whether or not she has any talent has never been more beside the point than it is this mess of a film that no actress of any ability level could have salvaged, despite one trying her very best. It's written by that infamous Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno, Diablo Cody, but we may as well just credit her as the director as well since everyone is probably going to place the blame primarily on her for this debacle anyway. Except this time they should.

An exercise in self-indulgence at its worst, all the problems that plague the film can be traced to the brain dead screenplay. I only call this a "teen horror comedy" out of a lack to come up with any other description for it. But as a horror movie it isn't scary and if it's a comedy then there's hardly a laugh to be had. As a satire of high school and teenage life it also fails, if that's even what it's aspiring to. Worst of all, the film seems genuinely in love with its own sense of perceived hipness and its central concept, which is seriously flawed. It's as if someone just decided on a whim to sit down and pen a script paying tribute to '80's teen touchstones like Heathers and The Lost Boys, without thinking through how to do it. The idea is that we're supposed to see great irony in Megan Fox playing a sexy cheerleader possessed by demons and devouring teen boys. Or something like that.

Nerdy, insecure doormat Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) and hot cheerleader Jennifer Check (Fox) have been an unlikely pair of BFF's since childhood, with Anita worshiping the ground Jennifer walks on like most every guy at school. One night Jennifer drags Needy away from her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) for a night at a hole-in-the-wall club to see the EMO-style band Low Shoulder, whose lead singer (The O.C.'s Adam Brody in a surprisingly fun turn) she's infatuated with. When a huge fire erupts in the middle of the show that claims the lives of many of their peers, Needy escapes with Jennifer who disappears into the back of a van with the band. Thinking she's a virgin (the only laugh in the entire picture) the group offers her up as some kind of sacrifice, but things quickly go very wrong. She returns as a possessed demon who feeds on teenage boys to maintain her beauty. When she hasn't eaten she starts to get cranky and look tired and ugly, or at least as Needy puts it, "ugly... for her." It's now up to her to try to put an end to her former best friend's killing spree.

The only thing scary and funny about this movie is that you'd be able to tell that Diablo Cody wrote it without even glancing at the credits. It was kind of a give away when the main character referred to the make of vehicle as an "89 Rapist." Despite its award notices, Juno received a lot of hate when it was released two years ago and though much of it stemmed from the unreasonable amount of critical praise heaped on it, an equal share stemmed from Cody's dialogue, which I didn't have a huge problem with at the time. At least I believed the characters in that world would talk like that and the underlying story and direction had enough substance to make up for it. That's far from the case here.

The two central characters are thinly drawn sketches and the world they inhabit never once feels like an authentic high school of any kind, with the script straining to make any kind of satirical point, which is surprising and disappointing considering Cody has stated in many interviews her love for this genre. But it seems like she deliberately tried to write a cult classic as a result of that appreciation rather than craft a clever genre film first and work from there. You half expect, given the talent involved, for this to go in the smart direction of Mean Girls, in which both actresses appeared. You wouldn't anticipate a Megan Fox starring vehicle to provide a deep commentary on female empowerment and high school life, but if it's not going to be that, shouldn't it still at least be exciting?

This was released theatrically with an "R" rating (this version I'm reviewing is unrated) but with the exception of the well publicized Fox/Seyfried lesbian kiss it could easily pass as a soft PG-13 slasher when gratuitous "torture porn" is clearly called for given the B-level plot. Not to say that would have salvaged this but the approach would have at least been consistent with the material. When casting Fox as a demon dining on male flesh you're practically obligated to go all the way or not even attempt it at all. It
felt like I was watching a Twilight movie, which is especially insulting considering I've never even seen any of them. This moved me an unwanted step closer.

Seyfried is saddled with the seemingly herculean task of carrying Fox through this, which may not be as difficult as it seems since Megan looks like she went on a hunger strike and lost about 30 pounds in preparation for the role. She plays Jennifer as completely wooden and vacant and it's tough to determine whether that's attributable to just poor writing and direction or Fox's performance, or rather a lack of one. Seyfried is genuinely affecting as Needy in a movie that has no idea what to do with her and fares better than anyone has any right to expect given what she had to work with. Whatever comes close to clicking in this film (and it isn't much) is due to her and the scenes she shares with her boyfriend hint at a smarter movie hidden underneath somewhere in a script written by someone else. She's also believable playing a nerdy, ugly duckling when we all know she's anything but.

As already well proven with her TV work and an impressive lead turn in last year's unintentionally hilarious Mamma Mia! Seyfried clearly has a natural charisma that Fox has yet to reveal and is the real star of the picture, whatever the advertising tells you. Fox's deficiencies as an actress were nicely covered up (when the rest of her wasn't) in the Transformers movies, but in this she's asked to play something other than eye candy opposite a far more talented co-star, which does her no favors. In a way, it's an interesting test for Fox but even she deserves better material than this to work with. And even though it's a prerequisite that high school kids be played by performers in their mid to late twenties, both these actresses seem way too mature for these roles and should definitely be moving on by now.

The director of this disaster is Karyn Kusama, who previously made an acclaimed little movie called Girlfight that I've never seen. This doesn't have me rushing to add it to the queue. But it almost doesn't matter who directed this because the script is so unfocused and its ideas phoned in from such a long distance that it likely couldn't have been have salvaged by anyone. It's a bad idea executed poorly, but its biggest sin is it just isn't any fun. The only good news is that no long term damage will result from Jennifer's Body since it was probably good for Cody to fail just to get it out of her system... and ours. Seyfried will go on to do huge things. And Megan Fox can just continue being Megan Fox, which is all she seems to be interested in being anyway. Everyone wins.... except those unfortunate enough to have watched it.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Whoa, I was curious for this one, cause of Megan Fox and the horror element, but when you compare it to means its a pussy ass teenage flick, trying to be scary but doing the furthest thing from it.

Its a pussy horror film, the worst kind if you ask me. If your going to do horror....its like you say, you gotta do it all the way, or dont do it at all.

jeremythecritic said...

Yep, that's exactly what it is unfortunately. I'm not sure what they were going for but something went very wrong.