“Hell is a teenage girl.”
These are the first words spoken in “Jennifer’s Body.” It is also a truth universally acknowledged. And while the film doesn’t quite have the polish of a Jane Austen novel, Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody (“Juno”) does provide a thorough analysis of a young woman’s role in our society. Had the forces of time allowed it, Ms. Cody and Ms. Austen would have no doubt been great pals. Do not mistake my words for sarcasm. “Jennifer’s Body” has unexpected depth.
On the surface, it’s a spunky horror story about a teenage girl possessed by a demon hungry for the flesh of boys. As man-eating cheerleader Jennifer Check, Megan Fox (“Transformers”) is tantalizing. She still can’t act for beans, but she doesn’t have to. Vested in a cheerleading uniform, waving a flag from side to side, her beauty, her seduction, is simply stunning. Spattered in blood and sporting rows of menacing fangs, the image is equally impressive. Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!”), meanwhile, proves the much more apt performer as Jennifer’s best friend and foil, the nerdy and awkward Needy.
Diablo Cody’s script sizzles with witty quips, interesting characters, and perceptive pop-culture references. Hilarity abounds. For reasons that elude me, resentment has built toward Cody following her Oscar win for “Juno.” You’re going to hear a lot of things about “Jennifer’s Body.” Cody tends to be pegged with judgments such as “self-aware,” “smug,” and “outdated.” Make note: none of this is true. The script is a riot, from its funky descriptors (“salty” denotes enthusiasm and “freaktarded,” well, that one is self-explanatory) to nicknames lifted from feminine hygiene products (I’m still working out which of my friends to start calling “Monistat”). Introductions to characters and concepts are fantastically crafted, marking one of the slickest preludes I’ve seen in some time.
Regrettably, the remaining narrative stalls. Plot progression is uneven, and scenes of exposition feel intrusive. Horror elements are surprisingly tame, with few moments of legitimate terror or suspense. On the other hand, they aren’t exactly missed. Guts and gore create outrageous images that, when paired with Cody’s lively wordplay, make for a rollicking good time. Still, I wish the script had been in the hands of a director more familiar with the horror genre. The dexterity of someone like Sam Raimi (who held nothing back in “Drag Me to Hell” earlier this year) could have made this an instant classic.
But there’s more to be had here than fun. At its core, “Jennifer’s Body” is an insightful commentary. Diablo Cody cleverly dissects how culture impresses upon teenage girls that their main value lies in their worth to their male counterparts. These values then wreak havoc upon the female adolescent world. Girls use and dispose of boys to feel validated. Girls have difficulty finding confidence apart from boys. Girls resort to catty and destructive means in a Darwinian struggle over attention from males. Cody emphasizes the importance of the bond between females, the “sandbox love” that begins at a young age, and then loudly asserts her resentment of society working to destroy these bonds—to destroy these girls. In this sense, “Jennifer’s Body” is a fiercely feminist work. It’s “Pride and Prejudice” set in hell.
It’s a shame that the story is not as inspired. The mumbled narrative dilutes Diablo Cody’s purpose, and so, ironically, “Jennifer’s Body” is more likely to perpetuate society’s distorted notions than annihilate them. Some will find the film to be exploitative, inane, and perhaps, misogynistic. But they’re missing the point completely. “Jennifer’s Body” is simply fighting fire with fire, hurling society’s distortions back in its face with a demonic ferocity.
“Jennifer’s Body” was produced by Fox Atomic in association with Dune Entertainment. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Written by Diablo Cody. Also starring Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, and Adam Brody. Runtime is 102 minutes. Rated R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use.