Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jennifer's Body - DVD Review

The theatrical run of Jennifer's Body fell in that nebulous grey area where I found myself curious but not quite curious enough to make that extra push to drive out to the theater and lay down green for the privilege of sitting through it. So I watched from the sidelines as it was critically shredded, bombed at the box office, and quietly forgotten, and I shrugged and figured that I had made the right call. But it recently floated to the top of my Netflix queue so I figured "what the hell?" and popped it in, and at risk of destroying any credibility my opinions ever had... I kinda liked it!

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the critics fucked up or didn't get it or anything like that. I'm not even saying that the A.V. Club was objectively wrong for ranking it as the nineteenth worst film of 2009 (man, am I selling this movie!). But the thing is that I can only truly dislike a film when it bores me, and whatever Jennifer's Body may be — a huge mess stuffed with obnoxiously overwritten Diablo Cody dialogue — it ain't boring. In fact it might just be the least boring movie of 2009. Every few minutes something bizarre and / or interesting happens, be it murder, arson, cannibalism, Satanic rituals, Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried making out for absolutely no reason, or hot chicks flying around in their prom dresses like it's Dragon Ball Z. This is a bizarre fucking movie. I saw a lot of dead teenager horror flicks in 2009 — Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Final Destination, Sorority Row, etc. — and the reason Jennifer's Body trumps them all is because I usually had no idea what was gonna happen next at any given moment. My attention was rapt.

Summed up, the movie is about an intense friendship between two high school girls, the groan-inducingly named Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried, and Jennifer, played by Megan Fox. Jennifer is the popular sexpot hottie while Needy is her (of course) needy sidekick and our protagonist. When they go to a local concert the indie band mistakes Jennifer for a virgin and attempts to sacrifice her to Satan for musical success, but since she's not a virgin the ritual backfires and she merges with a demon from hell. Seriously. She proceeds to kill and eat all the boys in school that are sexually attracted to her one by one while Needy uncovers the truth and has to figure out what to do with the knowledge that the killer is her lifelong best friend. The movie is broadly aiming for the same "high school as hell" allegory that Buffy the Vampire Slayer already executed a lot more skillfully.

What makes the movie almost work isn't so much the plot or the horror or the comedy as the friendship between Needy and Jennifer, alternately strange, intense, codependent, antagonistic, and more than a little romantic. I always love when the hero and villain have or develop a bona fide thematically and plot-essential relationship through the course of a film — see Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, or Indy and Belloq, or Bond and Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye, or Max and Vincent in Collateral. A disconnected villain like Sauron just doesn't interest me as much. So while the other characters such as Needy's male romantic interest, a few teachers, Needy and Jennifer's parents, and the boys Jennifer kills are quickly forgotten, it's okay, because these two are the story's backbone.

The most memorable and eye-popping scene occurs approximately two-thirds of the way through the picture when we're well into the thick of gruesome killings and feasting on entrails and you'd think the movie would be focused on plot, but it instead makes a very strange pit stop when Needy and Jennifer meet and rather than discussing the murders french kiss hello for approximately a full minute (over 1% of the entire movie!) of screen time. And I'm not using hyperbole when I say french kiss; you can actually see Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried's tongues going to work on each other in tight close-up. Then they move on and start talking about the plot again like nothing happened and you're like "what the what?!"

Many critics and Megan Fox herself have posited that it's basically just meant to be a little soft erotica to lighten the mood, but I don't buy that for a couple of reasons: One, the movie is written and directed exclusively by women, who don't usually stick lesbian erotica in the middle of films for no reason, and two, seeing as the film is entirely about the friendship of these two girls, this scene (along with dropped hints that this is neither the first time they've done this nor necessarily the furthest they've gone together) fundamentally changes the nature of their relationship and thereby the undertones of the entire story, making it almost a jilted romance tale about them resenting each other's boyfriends and certainly making it impossible to do any meaningful contextual analysis while brushing it aside. Plus, you know, hot chicks making out is awesome, and in this case incredibly random.

It's that spirit of sheer randomness that made me enjoy the overall picture quite a bit. Accuse Jennifer's Body of being dumb, of being base, of being shallow, of being a mess, of lacking any merit as cinema, but please. Don't accuse it of being dull or slow or saying that nothing happens. Because this movie is a happening, for better or for worse.

3 Stars out of 5

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