Jennifer’s Body is scriptwriter Diablo Cody’s much-hyped follow up to 2007’s smash hit indie comedy Juno – a film that not only bagged the one-time stripper an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but turned her into an overnight celebrity and all round media darling. Such was the impact of Juno, with its mix of alternative sass and razor-sharp dialogue that left both the critics fawning and the box office tills a-wringing, that expectations were always going to be sky high. Add girl-of-the-moment Megan Fox’s name into the mix and the headlines practically wrote themselves.
And yet, somewhere something must have gone wrong, because while Jennifer’s Body sounds like a sure thing on paper, the reality is rather less than the sum of its parts.
Fox, in her first star vehicle role, stars as the titular Jennifer, a high school cheerleader whose career as a professional sorority girl takes a gruesome turn for the worst. After a fire breaks out during a local gig, Fox ditches her geeky BFF Needy (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) and, in classic groupie style, runs off with the band, a group of wannabe emo superstars. Later that night, Jen turns up at Needy’s house covered in blood and spewing spiky electric blue bile all over the kitchen.
She has, of course, been possessed by a demon, which makes the after show antics of even the most legendry rock’n’roll hell raisers like Black Sabbath look pretty tame in comparison. Now a man-eater in every sense of the word, Fox is soon chowing down on the local male fraternity and it’s up to Needy to stop her.
Jennifer’s Body lays down its MO from the very first line, when the narrator Needy says: “Hell is a teenage girl” in her opening voiceover. Not the most subtle of devices, but it’s a remit the film sticks to slavishly.
Following on from standard horror themes of teenage girls and promiscuity (puberty…blood…sex…death!), Cody has tried to inject originality into the piece by veering away from the most staple of genre stereotypes. However, while this is an admirable attempt at reinvention, there is a reason why the rules become the rules.
Firstly, the set-up just isn’t that scary. Most of Jennifer’s victims are willing, horn dog students thrilled by a chance to score with the school hottie. This robs the film of the cat-and-mouse tension necessary to build atmosphere. Director Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux) obviously cottoned on to this during filming, as act two takes a definite shift towards the comic and abandons the ‘bump in the night’-style spooks.
Secondly, Fox’s choice of prey is pretty arbitrary, and by refusing to expand any of the supporting cast’s roles – Needy’s boyfriend Chip is the only exception – Jen can’t be built into an antihero either. If more time had been spent on establishing the internal politics of the high school microcosm, the audience could have cared as the bitchy queen bee or bigoted quarterback got their comeuppance. This would have posed interesting moral questions, too. Heathers, whose jet-black humour has been heavily imitated here, is a good example of this done well.
Lastly, and most important of all, who is this film pitched at? With two female leads, and plenty of oestrogen in-jokes, the most obvious audience would be teenage girls. But Megan Fox’s icy façade makes her too aloof to ever be loved. She seems more likely to steal your boyfriend just because she can than to empathise with the problem of unflattering jeans. In fairness, this was an attempt to broaden her accessibility, but choosing the role of a bloodthirsty schoolyard succubus is hardly the best one to endear you to new fans.
Also, the obvious money shot of the film is Fox and Seyfried’s makeout scene, shown in all its gratuitous tongue touching glory through a lingering, voyeuristic close-up. This, then, is one for the boys. But taking your date to the ‘Megan Fox Does Lady Love’ movie is the kind of rookie mistake guarantied to end any chance of getting lucky. And, when all is said and done, it’s pretty tame, so anyone loser-ish enough to buy a ticket just for that deserves whatever they get.
And yet, despite these structural contradictions, the greatest paradox of all this is that Megan Fox completely makes the movie. She is perfectly cast as the amoral femme fatale, delivering her killer lines – of which Cody has blessed her with in abundance – with all the devilish relish of a great onscreen villain. The film just would not work on any level without her.
As with Juno, Cody’s gift for pizzazzy dialogue remains her greatest strength. Both ironically self-referencing and inventively hip, the lexicon-baiting terms like “tragedy boner”, “Hello Titty” and, the frankly genius, “You give me such a wetty” show that Cody still retains her trademark way with words. But she lays it on too thick in places, a criticism also levelled at Juno, because people don’t talk with that sort of snazzy, rat-a-tat-tat dictum all of the time.
The overriding feeling here is of an undercooked script, quickly optioned by the producers to cash-in on the Cody bandwagon. Had they made her whip it into a tighter shape, then Jennifer’s Body could have been the salacious cult classic it so achingly aspires to be.
Fox proves she can be more than just eye candy draped over the bonnet of a Camaro, but her lack of vulnerability means that blockbuster love interests will always be her strongest suit. And the rest of the film smacks more of an opportunity wasted than of glory gained.
In the end, Jennifer’s Body needed a better workout before it was exposed to the public eye.