13 November 2009

Movie Review: Jennifer's Body


Jennifer's Body
2009, 102mins, R
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast includes: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K Simmons, Kyle Gallner
Release Date: 18th September 2009

“Jennifer’s Body” is an interesting second screenplay from 2008 Oscar winner Diablo Cody, primarily because it’s so intensely different from her debut effort “Juno”. The funky Cody lingo is still in strong supply but “Jennifer’s Body” is a motion picture focused on the disembowelment of boys rather than uncalled for teen pregnancy. For her second stab at feature films Cody has opted to tread the horror-comedy route, the result is an entertaining movie to be sure but the academy is in no danger of having to provide the writer with her second gold statue. Aside from being a far sillier motion picture “Jennifer’s Body” is also plighted by far more fundamental cinematic flaws than “Juno”, the whole filmmaking process considerably less polished this time around.

The film unfolds in the little Minnesota town of Devil’s Kettle, where Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is the alpha hottie of the local High School. Admired by everyone and desired by many, Jennifer has an unusual best friend for a girl of her social stature, the plainer and on the surface at least geekier Needy (Amanda Seyfried). When up and coming indie band “Low Shoulder” roll into town the girls go to watch them in the town’s bar, only for the establishment to burn down in a ferocious inferno. Needy and Jennifer escape but the latter ends up in the sinister group’s van, the other left in a dazed and confused panic. Later the same night Jennifer re-emerges a blood soaked and gaunt mess, but the next day she is as normal and narcissistic as ever. As time moves on Needy starts to suspect something is up and quickly connects a slew of murdered high school boys with Jennifer’s peculiar behaviour and inconsistent mood. After carrying out some research she comes to believe that Jennifer has been possessed by a demon that feasts on human flesh (teenage boys in her case) and in a bid to defend her own boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) Needy takes an offensive stance concerning her meat gobbling BFF.

Diablo Cody is despite her financial and awards success an acquired taste, some people revel in her bizarre but quick witted dialogue whilst others can’t abide the quirkiness of it all. I loved “Juno” and so was only to happy to tackle another slice of Cody pie, especially given that the genre switch between that feature and this ensured repetition was unlikely. In the end “Jennifer’s Body” does avoid Cody simply going through the paces again but it is a less impressive screenplay, the dialogue is excessively indulgent at times and the middle section definitely sags in contrast to the opening and closing acts. I had a decent time with the film but it’s far from flawless and it sits several notches below “Juno” in nearly every conceivable respect.

The cast is populated with young but fairly recognisable faces, chief amongst them Megan Fox. Having left a positive impression on me with “Transformers” and “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” Fox disappointed earlier this year by handing in a dreadful performance in robotic sequel “Transformers Revenge of the Fallen”, so for her at least “Jennifer’s Body” is a mission of speedy redemption. The role of Jennifer is despite what advertising would have you believe more of a supporting part, Seyfried’s Needy actually narrating the film and featuring in nearly every scene. Certainly it’s the latter actress who gets the chance to dish out a meatier and more rewarding performance but both ultimately succeed in “Jennifer’s Body” even if one is asked more of than the other. Seyfried anchors the picture like a true pro by creating a sympathetic and engaging character whilst Fox gets to flex her comedic muscles and sex up the screen. Together they make a surprisingly good fit and conjure an entertainingly odd spark, which is more than can be said for the scenes between Seyfried and Simmons. Playing Needy’s boyfriend Simmons is a bland and eyebrow raising addition to the cast, certain sequences involving him and hearty doses of exposition are easily the movie’s nadir. In smaller parts J.K Simmons and Kyle Gallner are modestly efficient and as the front man for “Low Shoulder” Adam Brody makes for a believable douchebag.

In terms of horror-comedy “Jennifer’s Body” is notably more effective at bringing the funny than cooking up proper scares. Cody will always have a way with words and despite this representing a step down for the scribe she stills crams in some solid jokes and draws a reasonable tally of laughs. More at fault for the patchy fright rate is director Karyn Kusama who seems largely clueless as to how scary moments should be presented. The feature offers a few nifty jump scares and at least one deliciously unsettling scene (it takes place in an empty house and boy is Megan Fox menacing) but the subtler elements of horror filmmaking are in short supply. Kusama shoots with visual flair but large portions of the feature seem stylistically excessive and overbearing, instances were hazy flashbacks and slow motion are deployed simply don’t work. The cinematography is pleasurably spooky when it needs to be but Kusama fumbles too many other elements for that to act as a reasonable lone condolence.

The movie packs admirable punch and energy in its closing 40 minutes and opening 25 but the middle section feels a little bloated and less focused. Running at 102 minutes “Jennifer’s Body” could have been just as successful with 10 minutes of flab removed, leaving the audience more comfortable during the central segment in the process. The performances and Cody’s writing would still be able to keep the characters snappy and believable, making me to wonder why Kusama decided to maintain the longer cut. It’s a bamboozler for sure, albeit a grievance that I was ultimately able to forgive on the strength of the film’s frantic finale.

“Jennifer’s Body” is a good effort but definitely not a great one, even within the confines of its limited genre. For Fox and Seyfried it’s an undisputable success but for Cody it marks a slight (but far from fatal) regression whilst doubts still linger over “Aeon Flux” helmer Kusama. I recommend taking a look at the film when it arrives on DVD but as a big screen outing it’s not an essential trip. Cody is still separate from the mainstream and remains a credible purveyor of the weird and wonderful but “Jennifer’s Body” isn’t quite the encore fans will have been hoping for, despite its numerous charms.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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