Home 2009

Jennifer’s Body

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Good news, zeitgeist watchers! Diablo Cody has descended from the mountaintop to bestow new slang upon us! Henceforth, “jealous” shall be rendered “Jell-O,” as in, “You’re so Jell-O of me!” AND THUS IT IS.

The “Juno” scribe’s sophomore effort, the bloody horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body,” doesn’t have much to offer beyond quirky dialogue, though — and even that feels strained, as if Cody is trying too hard to copy herself. For every line clever enough to inspire a chuckle there are two more that make me think, “Really, Diablo? Ugh.”

The title character, portrayed with campy conviction by “Transformers” hottie Megan Fox — this may well be the part she was born to play — is a high school vixen whose feminine wiles and sexual prowess have made her the object of every boy’s lust and every girl’s awe. Jennifer’s best friend since childhood is a wallflower named Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried), who has a nice-enough boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), and lives vicariously through Jennifer’s escapades.

They all live in a small, nondescript town that’s rocked by a tragedy one night, and while Jennifer wasn’t injured in the accident, she starts behaving differently afterward. To be specific, she shows signs of being both evil and, um, carnivorous. Needy is chagrined by this. Some other people are harmed in far worse ways by it.

(Tangent: “Needy” is presumably a nickname, but still: “Needy Lesnicky” doesn’t sound like a person; it sounds like an insult. “You’re such a Needy Lesnicky!” I can hear someone like Jennifer saying exasperatedly. And is your writing so weak that you have to actually NAME your protagonist “Needy” in order to get the point across?)

I believe the intent is that Jennifer’s literal evilness will serve as a metaphor for adolescent angst; the film’s first words are Needy telling us that “hell is a teenage girl.” We get the idea, but the metaphor falls flat. I kept thinking of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (created by another self-conscious quirkmeister, Joss Whedon), which did the high-school-demon thing a lot better, with more insight, humor, and humanity. “Jennifer’s Body” is cluttered and unfocused, occasionally funny, somewhat interesting, never scary. What’s the purpose of the mysterious waterfall to nowhere? Why is J.K. Simmons doing a goofy “Fargo” accent as the school’s lone administrator, and why does he have a hook for a hand? How does the origin of Jennifer’s evilness fit in with the teen-angst metaphor? What is this all supposed to add up to?

This is the third girl-power movie for director Karyn Kusama, following “Girlfight” and “Aeon Flux,” but her influence is barely felt. It’s really Diablo Cody’s movie, and it’s her quirks and obsessions on display, for better or worse. What felt fresh and original two years ago, in “Juno,” has lost its luster now; despite being entirely unrelated except for having the same screenwriter, “Jennifer’s Body” feels like a retread. I’m afraid this is one more doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.

C+ (1 hr., 42 min.; R, moderate harsh profanity, a lot of blood and gore, some rather strong sexuality.)

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