Hell is a teenaged girl. Or, in ex-stripper turned screenwriter Diablo Cody’s case; hell is trying to follow up a phenomenally good film like Juno.
Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) puts a little too much girl-on-girl action into Jennifer’s Body. There may be some audience members who disagree with that.
Awkward Anita “Needy” Lesnicki is the antithesis to her best gal-pal and resident high school hottie Jennifer Check. Anita wears glasses. Jennifer is Megan Fox. As far as visual characterisation goes, that’s as complicated as it gets.
After a midnight outing with wannabe indie band Low Shoulder (fronted by Adam Brody and some eyeliner), Jennifer turns up at Needy’s house covered in blood and vomiting black stuff all over her linoleum. Their friendship is soon pushed to the limit when Jennifer starts chowing down on the flesh of teenaged boys and weighing up the nutritional value of Needy’s boyfriend, Chip. That’s what you get for having a best friend who uses the word 'needy' as a term of endearment.
The film starts with the excellent Amanda Seyfried’s Needy in a secure asylum, sporting an orange jumpsuit and bunny slippers. Like Jennifer, she's more than a little tapped, as indicated by her booting an orderly in the face and leaving her in a pool of teeth and blood. Bunny rabbit slippers and extreme violence – you might think that Diablo’s done for Eighties-styled comedy horror what she did for accidental pregnancy.
Enter Megan Fox. Already a man-eater, Jennifer seems barely altered by her encounter with the dark arts. Apart from being even meaner and more attractive to wildlife. The camera certainly doesn’t care that she’s turned cannibal: Jennifer’s hot pants are treated to so many lingering shots they’re practically a character in themselves. And why not? This isn’t Jennifer’s Brain. You cast Megan Fox as the lead and no one’s going to express their shock over her bottom sharing equal screen time with her co-star.
It’s just a shame that writer Cody didn’t gift Fox with her usual witty, incisive dialogue and challenged her audience’s perceptions; Fox could have proved her worth. Instead, she’s lumbered with a consciously dumb script. Occasionally she gets to pout over lines like, ‘I’m not even a backdoor virgin!’ But mostly she was just, like, totally crass and shit.
Worth a mention are Diablo favourite JK Simmons (Juno’s dad) who plays a befuddled teacher with a randomly robotic arm and Amy Sedaris (from the wickedly funny Strangers with Candy) who briefly appears as Needy’s mum. Both are barely given the screen time, however, as overlooked as the text around a page three girl.
The film isn’t exactly challenging stereotypes. Boys fall for the bad girl. Jennifer gets uglier the longer she goes without a man (or in her case, has lacklustre hair and a spot) and the geek is signified by her glasses (although remove them and she’s quite honestly hotter than Fox). But this is horror; even the most original take on the genre is usually a parody.
An Eighties motif runs through the film, from the flying ducks on the wall of a living room to the spectacular pink puffball dress Needy sports at the prom. There’s also the Eighties horror throwback in the form of a convenient psychic connection the two BFFs have. Of course, that could just be because they’re “lesbi-gay” for each other. Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) puts a little too much girl-on-girl action into Jennifer’s Body. There may be some audience members who disagree with that.
As disappointing as Jennifer’s Body is as a follow up to Juno, this film isn’t quite as bad as some criticism suggests. There are a few good jumps and the script is mostly funny and has the odd gratifying exchange (“It’s freak-tarded!”). Cody’s wry slant on the world is here in spades: “It’s true,” one character blurts out. “It’s on their Wikipedia!” Not forgetting the god-awful charity song, 'Through the Trees', which the residents of the backwater town, Devil’s Kettle, and mass-media adopt as their mourning anthem. Just occasionally, this film is Cody at her sardonic best.
As a black comedy-horror, this film does work. It might be horror-lite as far as gore is concerned, but it is enjoyably daft. It’s also good to see Amanda Seyfried without the danger of her breaking into an ABBA medley. The ending might be a little anti-climatic and whatever is in Jennifer’s Body seems to have no grand plan beyond a bit of boy-munching, but if this wasn’t a film by Diablo Cody, people would most likely be applauding a decent comedy horror with flashes of brilliance. She’s just set the bar high.
Jennifer’s Body might not appeal to fans of Juno, but fortunately Diablo Cody’s writing talent is one doodle that can’t be un-did. For a truer mark of her genius, check out the excellent United States of Tara.
Next up for Cody? A revamp of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series about the blonde and beautiful Wakefield twins. Cody’s version will have Jessica, the ‘mischievous one’, battling unplanned pregnancy and Elizabeth, the goody two-shoes, trying to stop her best friend Enid from devouring her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Todd. Here’s hoping at least one of those is true.
Jennifer’s Body (15) is out now.