Thursday, September 17, 2009

Corporeal punishment: Jennifer's Body

The body in question belongs to the resident narcissistic teen hottie of Devil’s Kettle, the generic rural American town where a suitably demonic series of events, dreamed up by a writer whose own first name is Spanish for Devil, unfolds. Along with a limpid rock band on tour, lifelong pals Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) are the only survivors of a fire that inexplicably breaks out at the local watering hole, prompting what is surely the most poorly managed evacuation of a one-floor licensed truck stop in movie history, replete with extras running around, flaming, flailing, screaming. But only Needy will make it home that night. Jennifer will be abducted by said rockers in their boogie van—“agents of Satan with really awesome haircuts,” as she’ll come to describe them—and whisked away into the wilds of Devil’s Kettle to endure hardships only gradually revealed. When she returns from her ordeal she’s covered in blood, breaks in to Needy’s house, starts gobbling up mom’s roast chicken without even asking, and lets a massive black barf bomb erupt all over the kitchen floor. I guess it’s the barf that lets us know we’re watching a horror movie.

“Hell is a teenage girl,” declares Needy at the top of her excessively explanatory voice-over, setting the tone of flamboyantly hormonal high school journal-keeping which will prove to dominate Jennifer’s Body, the follow-up to Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody’s screenwriting debut Juno. Like Juno, Jennifer’s Body has a sassy and irreverent sense of humour to help ease us into the angst, but it has none of its predecessor’s modest charms nor its feeling for the ordinary messiness of teenage existence. Jennifer’s Body wants to tap into the thick ambiguities of female bonds, using supernatural conventions, namely telepathy and some sort of Satanic shenanigans, to flush the internal drama out into something heightened, fantastic and immediate. But the film’s teenage monster is only vaguely conceived and engages in no particular mythology. Its central relationship is undeveloped, and its attempts to characterize Needy as the geeky one are laughably reduced to disguising her beauty behind a pair of glasses. Finally, its rendering of adolescent psychosexual trauma is crassly superficial. So it’s no Let the Right One In, no Carrie, no Ginger Snaps. It’s not even Trick or Treat. It feels like a mostly cynical cash-in on the latest teen exploitation trends and Cody’s emerging brand.

More disappointing however is where this film finds director Karyn Kusama, whose feature debut Girlfight was such a knockout nine years ago. Between Girlfight and Jennifer’s Body Kusama’s sole feature credit has been Aeon Flux. (I didn’t see it either.) But it seems like Kusama’s career has gone in roughly the same direction as Girlfight’s star Michelle Rodriguez, who went from coming out of nowhere with a genuinely tough, Oscar-worthy leading performance, to a string of supporting roles as the snarling, more one-dimensionally tough girl in films like The Fast and the Furious, Resident Evil, S.W.A.T. and Battle in Seattle. While it wouldn’t have redeemed her resume any, I kind of wish Rodriguez would have showed up in Kusama’s latest, just to cut to the chase beat the shit out of Jennifer, preferably in the first act.


Paul Matwychuk said...

I saw AEON FLUX! It was terrible!

And terrible in an unusually depressing way too, because of how many talented women were involved in creating it — not just Karyn Kusama, but Charlize Theron (in her first role after winning the Oscar for MONSTER) and Sophie Okonedo (who had been Oscar-nominated for HOTEL RWANDA, and who here wound up playing a woman whose feet had been surgically replaced with a second pair of hands in order to make her a more acrobatic thief).

JB said...

Shit. Guess I won't be tracking that one down, even out of perverse curiosity. Whatever happened to Sophie Okonedo anyway? I really enjoyed her so much in DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, and vaguely recall her having a nice bit in Polanski's OLIVER TWIST.