Friday, September 25, 2009

Karyn Kusama's Jennifer's Body (2009)

I've never seen a Megan Fox movie, although I've seen her adorn numerous glossy magazine covers while standing in line at the grocery store. I've never seen a film directed by Karyn Kusama, although her two previous films, Girlfight (2000) and Aeon Flux (2005), look kinda cool. I have, however, seen Jason Reitman's Juno (2007), penned by Diablo Cody, who won the Academy Award for her screenplay; and Juno is a personal favorite, one of my favorite films of this decade. I didn't even know that she wrote Karyn Kusama's Jennifer's Body (2009) till after it premiered in theatres (I read very few film sites). Cody's screenplay for Jennifer's Body was the primary attraction for me seeing it, and I didn't really know what it was about (although some horror bloggers that I follow have given it some recent attention).
Amanda Seyfried (who looks a lot to me like a young Naomi Watts) plays Needy Lesnicky, who currently resides in a mental asylum, and from within those walls, she's going to tell her story as to how she got there (some killings had something to do with it). Needy is a cute, young high-school student, who's also very smart and very normal. Needy has a cute, young, smart, and equally normal boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), and her best friend, Jennifer (Megan Fox), is a strikingly-beautiful cheerleader. They're an odd couple of "BFFs," as one student remarks to Needy during a pep rally, "Why are you waving at Jennifer?"; then, "You two must be lovers." Jennifer asks Needy to go a bar to see an indie band, Low Shoulder, whose lead singer Jennifer's gots the hots for. Devil's Kettle, their small town, doesn't have a club but the one bar, named after a waterfall which collects in a whirlpool (leading down into a seeming endless pit). The band's frontman, Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody), is smitten with Jennifer, even more excited, because he believes that she's a virgin. The band starts playing and a fire breaks out, trapping everyone inside. Jennifer and Needy escape, along with the band, Low Shoulder, who really kept their cool during the whole goings on. Nikolai asks Jennifer if she wants to ride with the band in their van, and she accepts. Needy goes home alone. Jennifer shows at her house later, caked in blood with a ravenous appetite and a need to vomit up a big, black nasty pool of viscous liquid. Rock on. Time for Jennifer's Body to hit the high school with some demonic hijinx.
As I sat in the theatre, I began thinking why does this film feel so familiar? Well, my high school years are very over, but when I was thirteen or fourteen, the Jennifer's Body of my generation was called Heathers (1988), directed by Michael Lehmann and smartly-scripted by Daniel Waters. When I was twenty-three I remember taking my very cute girlfriend to see Robert Rodriguez's The Faculty (1998), also smartly-scripted, this time by Kevin Williamson. Jennifer's Body is a dark comedy/satire of high-school life against a genre backdrop (for Heathers, it was a teenage Bonnie and Clyde; for The Faculty, it was an alien invasion). Jennifer's Body opts for a demonic, Succubus-driven spin. Cody is a sharp, observant writer (also exec-produced) and she brings her spin on the satire, perhaps for a newer generation. Cody's immediate strong point is her female characters, often armed with an acerbic wit and a sassy tongue, and Needy and Jennifer are great characters. However, I really love, as she did in Juno, when she subversively pens ineffectual, stuttering male characters, like Chip, or poseurs, like Nicolai. Traditional cinema is full of shrill, emotional, and vulnerable female characters, so it's really fun to watch Cody turn the guys inside out (as Jennifer literally does throughout the movie). One of the best scenes is when Needy and Chip have sex: it's really humorous when Chip immediately begins groping her breasts, and when Needy's having a demonic moment with Jennifer, while Chip's working away, he asks, "Am I hurting you?"
Cody's dialogue and story is terrific, and I wish that Kusama's visuals matched her words. Jennifer's Body is way too glossy for the material. I really wanted a gritter feel to the material, although there are some great compositions, like a wide shot of Fox swimming in the lake after a kill or the beautiful shots of the waterfall and whirlpool. Fox is dead sexy on screen and she looks devilishly good, and the effects are well-done when she gets sinister. Seyfried really carries Jennifer's Body, and she's outstanding. If she weren't good in her role, then the film would just feel cold. Surprisingly, Jennifer's Body is really tame in terms of sexuality. There's nothing really steamy or shocking, but overall, the film has a truly risque vibe that just really teases the viewer: a smart choice by the film makers (keeping the focus on the story and the dialogue). The violence, like the sexuality, isn't over-the-top, and the film doesn't really provide any true scary bits (I'm certain that this wasn't intended as a traditional and true horror film).
Since Ms. Megan Fox gets a vast amount of fanboy love (she's quite good in the film, also; it looks like she's having a lot of fun), after viewing Jennifer's Body, I've pretty much accepted my fanboy-love for Diablo Cody. I'll line up for any film that's she's involved in, and Jennifer's Body is a lot more fun than it should be. Cody's certainly captured my heart, in demonic fashion.


Mr.LargePackage said...

I remember the head cheerleader from my high school. Some people said she was a succubus. Others said she was an alien. All I know is that she challenged me to a showdown in the school gym at midnight to decide the fate of humanity. Everybody knows that cheerleaders are a lot of things, but they aren't large and in charge. Your welcome humanity.

moderndaystoryteller said...

Haven't watched Jennifer's Body yet. Juno was one of my favs too. Diablo Cody's been getting a lot of crap for this movie. In Hollywood Deadline, it was even suggested she might be a one-trick pony. Good to read something positive for a change.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Karen for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it. It appears this film is dividing critics and viewers right down the middle with some really positive praise and some damning negative criticism. I love Cody's work and it's a really fun film.

My man, Mr. LP, humanity must remain in your debt, and as a member, let me send my heartfelt thnx. Glad you made it through, brother.

Emily said...

I too enjoyed this film and am annoyed by the Cody backlash. Eh, I guess no one likes a successful success story.

My beef with Jennifer's Body, however, was the direction. It never felt like Kusama knew what kind of film to make. The 'scary' moments had nothing to really offer in terms of suspense, although most of the more overly comedic scenes worked fine. Odd because based on her credits, it seems like Kusama has worked more with action and movement.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Em for reading and commenting. I totally agree about the Cody backlash--I dont understand it and dont think it's merited. She's an amazingly talented writer. You're also right about Kusama's direction but I haven't seen her other films. I wish she would have loosened up a little, at least as much as Cody, when she shot Jennifer.