Film: Jennifer’s Body

And now to the tonal disaster that is Jennifer’s Body (2009), a coming-of-ageĀ  horror kludge that’s part dark comedy, part gross-out violence-fest, and part Diablo Cody over-cleverness. The film centers on the unlikely friendship between Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried), two high school girls who don’t have much in common beyond their shared childhood. It’s a classic case of a shallow high school hottie (Jennifer) keeping her supposedly less striking BFF (Needy) close at hand to make her look that much hotter. When Jennifer drags Needy to a crummy rural bar to see an indie band, things take a bad turn, and Jennifer makes off with the group in their van. When she reappears later that night she’s…well, she’s changed. As the local tragedies mount, Needy learns just what’s happened to Jennifer, and how her friend is involved.

The movie opens with the line “hell is a teenage girl,” narration that at once unlocks the film’s message and conjures inevitable comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with its classic “high school is hell” metaphor). Indeed, Jennifer comes off like a less likable Cordelia Chase, whose careless boy-crazy behavior runs her through the Angel treatment. The thematic similarities, high school setting, and hip, quippy dialogue all contribute to a Buffy knock-off feel, but without the winning characters to sell it. The heavy metal soundtrack and gruesome gore quotient paint it as standard horror fare, but quirky dialogue and incongruous comedic characters (such as J.K. Simmons’ hook-handed, touchy-feely teacher) show up from time to time, subverting that deadly seriousness. It’s a stylistic collision that might have worked, but the elements compete more than collaborate, and it’s not really satisfying on either level.

I think maybe what works the least for me is Jennifer. She’s supposed to be unlikable, but I think the movie needs us to sympathize with her a little, and Megan Fox makes that pretty difficult. Amanda Seyfried makes for a compelling protagonist, and there are funny lines and amusing tonal clashes keeping things interesting. But ultimately this one felt like watching two movies mutated uncomfortably together, and I’m not sure I liked either of them quite enough to recommend the final product.

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