I’ve never been a big fan of the “mash-up” style of summarizing movies—I’m not really sure if that’s the “proper” term for it or not, but you know what I mean: “It’s like The Godfather meets Saw,” to steal a line from The Sopranos (describing their wiseguy-financed horror-gangster movie Cleaver). About halfway through the first act of Jennifer’s Body, though, I decided that I was watching something that lends itself particularly well to these types of descriptions, and they all begin with “It’s Juno meets…” Filling in the latter part of that reductionist summary could be done in any number of ways, but I think I’d probably lean towards one of Sam Raimi’s horror movies, or maybe more appropriately Shaun of the Dead. At any rate, Jennifer’s Body is the second produced screenplay by Diablo Cody, the stripper cum writer of Juno who won an Oscar for her debut script. (She’s also the creator of the Showtime series The United States of Tara, which I enjoy.) Here she revisits familiar territory with a decidedly different twist: it’s the story of a high school girl in Minnesota trying to deal with unique life events that threaten to irreversibly alter her sense of who she is and who she’s in the process of becoming. Instead of an unplanned pregnancy throwing a wrench into the works, though, ‘Needy’ (Amanda Seyfried) has her life turned upside down when she and her best friend, Jennifer (Megan Fox), narrowly escape death and the latter is—ahem—transformed.
The way Cody writes dialogue is already somewhat of a trademark, a constant series of snarky, all-too-self-aware quips and pop culture references that nevertheless somehow manage to avoid becoming too annoying or too overwrought. Jennifer, the consummate popular girl in school, accuses Needy of being “Jell-O” of her beauty; later when it seems she might be showing weakness, she reassures Needy and herself that she’s “Ford Tough.” I’m sure Diablo Cody could make a decent living for herself as a script doctor alone, taking others’ works and sprinkling such nuggets of dialogue throughout. Thankfully, she’s talented beyond her propensity for witty dialogue, and with Jennifer’s Body she’s written a movie that is wholly tongue-in-cheek from first frame to last, and the dialogue is just the beginning.
While Karyn Kusama’s direction provides the requisite startles to satisfy the Friday night high school crowd, it’s the tone of Cody’s screenplay that most defines this film. It’s winking at you the whole time, indulging in every cliche of both the teenage drama and the horror genres, and it has a lot of fun doing it. Needy narrates as the understated, overlooked friend of the hottest chick in school, with the requisite steady relationship with her nice-guy boyfriend (Johnny Simmons) to contrast with her friend’s heartbreaking tendancies. And of course under those over-sized glasses, Seyfried has plenty of hotness of her own to let out when the situation calls for it.
Jennifer becomes somewhat of a monster, or she’s possessed by a demon, or something, in a hilarious ritual that evokes the fabled story of Led Zeppelin’s rise to fame. Needy learns of Jennifer’s condition through the requisite scene where she visits the library and reads dozens of books—which just happen to be on the shelves, conveniently located in “the occult section”—over the course of a few hours (tops), giving us all the explanation we could want or care about. And then there’s a scene where the two girls just happen to end up in the same bed, and as I’ve learned from extensive research on the Internet, and as Jennifer’s Body reaffirms, whenever this happens and the two girls are sufficiently attractive, they are compelled to make out with each other, so that’s exactly what Needy and Jennifer proceed to do. And yet, somehow, this scene manages to play as a sort of defining and empowering moment for both characters.
This is a really fun, clever movie. It doesn’t have quite the emotional heart that nudged Juno over the edge into the realm of widespread acceptance, but it’s nonetheless a satisfying (and unexpected) follow-up effort from a young and trendy writer. If nothing else, it’ll certainly keep you chuckling. Taken alongside Drag Me to Hell, it bookends this past summer with a pair of entries that newly redefine the sub-genre of intentionally-campy horror movies. It’s a category that I keep finding myself enjoying.
And wouldn’t you know it: I just commented in my last post that J.K. Simmons always plays the same character, only to see him show up in Jennifer’ s Body in a totally different role than usual. The comedic value he adds remains the same, of course.