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Friday, September 18, 2009

Jennifer's Body offers horror for hipsters

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Jennifer’s Body is a smart, funny, and insightful film about the complexities of friendship between teenage girls. This is a film that knows the high school years are a time when your “bff” can turn into a vicious demon from hell overnight once hormones start flowing and boys come into the picture. Of course, in real life the transformation is more figurative. In this film, we get the real deal.

Popular girl Jennifer (Megan Fox) is sacrificed to the devil by one of those awful, middle of the road alterna-rock bands that infest Myspace. Not being quite the virginal offering the band thought she was, Jennifer gets rejected by Lucifer and comes back to life as a flesh-eating succubus. In a pinch, she’ll settle for whoever happens to stray into her path, but she really hungers for the boys that her best friend Needy (Amanda Sayfried) takes a shine to, especially Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).

Writer Diablo Cody imbues her script with a quirky, sarcastic sense of humor and peppered with gratuitous use of hipster slang that should be familiar to anyone who saw her previous Oscar-winning script for Juno. As with Juno, that approach is likely to be a love it or hate it proposition for audiences. On one hand it gives her films a distinctiveness and originality that marks them instantly as Cody’s work. On the other, she tends to pile it on a bit too much even for those who appreciate the style. There are a few too many moments when the film starts getting into real emotions only to undermine the impact with one smart-ass remark too many.

Director Karyn Kusama handles the films comedic elements, effects-heavy set pieces and relationship scenes equally well. Where she runs into trouble is in trying to reconcile all the varying tones of the movie into something cohesive. She comes close, but in the end it doesn’t completely gel. The film’s saving grace is that Fox, Sayfried and Simmons all do great jobs in their roles, presenting far more realistic portrayals of teens than we usually see in Hollywood movies. Fox certainly benefits from the chance to prove she’s more than just eye candy, but the real star here is Sayfried. She manages to portray her character’s transformation from timid “hot girl’s best friend” to reluctant hero, conveying appropriate strength and weakness at both ends of her journey.

While in marketing terms it was probably easier to sell Jennifer’s Body as a horror film, that doesn’t seem to be its real intent. Neither especially scary nor horrific, its main interest is to explore the relationship between its two leads. It uses the imagery and trappings of the horror film as much, if not more, to symbolize certain aspects of that relationship than to generate screams. The result is a movie closer in spirit to Heathers or Mean Girls than any horror film. Taken on its own terms, however, Jennifer’s Body does enough that’s right and original to balance out its flaws. ***

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