Thursday, 5 November 2009
Jennifer's Body (futuremovies.co.uk)
When Juno became such a huge hit in 2007, it announced the arrival of several exciting new talents, the most heralded of whom was the film’s writer, Diablo Cody. Cody went on to win that year’s screenwriting Oscar, and wasted no time in getting on with more work: writing a very well-received, Spielberg-produced TV series called United States of Tara, and developing a handful of film scripts while seemingly keeping many more ideas swilling around in her mind. Jennifer’s Body is the first of these scripts to make it to the screen, and while it is unmistakeably from the same witty and culturally aware mind as Juno, it falls short of the high bar that Cody set for herself with that excellent debut.
Jennifer’s Body is, on the surface at least, another high-school horror movie. And with FHM’s favourite lust-object Megan Fox in the role of Jennifer, along with that suggestive title, it would be natural to expect the kind of bog-standard pervy exploitation that contemporary ‘horror’ tends to present as entertainment. But apart from one shamelessly gratuitous girl-on-girl kissing scene, this is not what Jennifer’s Body offers. The problem is that neither Cody nor director Karyn Kusama seem sure of what they want this film to be instead. It’s funny in parts, but not consistently so; it dabbles in Lynchian weirdness, but never fully commits; it’s fairly gory, but lacks any proper scary bits.
Retold to us by Needy (Amanda Seyfried), the plainer best friend of Jennifer, chief cheerleader and object of desire at their small-town high school, the story concerns Jennifer’s transformation from metaphorical to literal man-eater after a tragic fire destroys the town’s only bar during a busy gig night. Needy relates events from the women’s prison we first find her in, beginning with the great line “hell is a teenage girl”. Cody’s idea of paralleling female adolescence with demon-possession shows that she understands how powerful the horror genre can be, but her tendency to defuse situations with annoyingly quirky dialogue undercuts the film’s potential to genuinely disturb an audience.
Similarly, Cody introduces an interesting subtext about the irrational extremes people can go to in the aftermath of tragedies, but keeps it fairly buried and undeveloped. The one element of the film that really works is the slow reveal of just what has caused Jennifer’s transformation, thanks to a very funny joke concerning a no-hoper indie band and a great deadpan performance from Adam Brody as the lead singer. To go into any more detail would spoil the gag, but it certainly made me chuckle. That idea shares the spark of originality that pervaded Juno, and hopefully there will be more of it in evidence in whatever Cody does next.
Jennifer's Body is in UK cinemas from 6 November. This review originally appeared on futuremovies.co.uk.