More than any other starlet working today, Megan Fox of the Transformers films appears to be made purely of pixels. She looks like a 3-D version of the girl some guy would airbrush on the side of his van, which makes her an inspired casting choice for a movie about a high school cheerleader who has to consume human flesh to maintain her frightening physical perfection.
The rest of Jennifer’s Body is less inspired. Concocted by Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), the film should pack a wallop of irreverent, in-your-face girl power, or something. It should be scary and funny, but mainly it’s a mess.
Fox plays Jennifer, who spends most of the film with her titular body inhabited by a hungry demon. Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) plays her supposedly more relatable best friend, whose character is summed up by her nickname, Needy. Since Jennifer is a bitchy teen queen even before her possession and Needy is a mouse, their friendship doesn’t make much sense, despite Needy’s voiceover explanation that “Sandbox love is forever.” The girls’ sparring girl talk is far less natural than that of the two sisters in Ginger Snaps, the Canadian teen horror comedy about female rites of passage from which Cody appears to have stolen much of her material.
The rest comes from Heathers. For 20 years, writers have tried in vain to match Daniel Waters’ delirious version of high school speak. Cody’s attempts result in a bunch of actors mumbling their way through dialogue that tends to sound either lame or belabored. With the possible exception of Fox crooning to one of her victims that she has a “such a wettie” for him, it’s hard to imagine this script being quoted in homeroom.
Part of the problem is that, while hyperarticulate Juno was smart, these characters act dumb as posts. When the members of a visiting indie band slip Jennifer a mickey and take her away in their van, Needy just stands there looking distraught. Cody seems to confuse satire with not giving a damn.
While Heathers gave us tongue-in-cheek treatments of teen suicide and a dad mourning his “dead, gay son,” it had a legitimate underlying target: the ways in which the media, parents and teens themselves sentimentalize and falsify teenagers’ lives. Jennifer’s Body, by contrast, can’t seem to decide what it’s mocking. We’re expected to snicker at the teenagers for taking Wikipedia as gospel and thinking pop culture started in 1990. But Cody also asks us to roll our eyes as a small town mourns mass deaths, or a girl makes a self-important reference to her relative with PTSD.
The scattershot satire hits the mark a couple of times. Adam Brody, as the evil band’s front man, explains earnestly to Jennifer why they’ve resorted to demonic intervention: “Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days? We’re all so cute.” And Fox, while not exactly an Oscar contender, manages to give her sex sirening some comic panache.
For all its faults, Jennifer’s Body probably has enough sheer provocation and style to connect on the rental circuit with its real target audience: snarky girls too young to see R-rated films alone. For now, Brandon Gray of Boxofficemojo.com, a website that does Monday-morning-quarterback analyses of new movies’ weekend ticket sales, probably sums up its muddled motives best. “[I]f Megan Fox is such a fantasy for males,” he writes, “how is it attractive to them to see her as a man-eating demon? Besides, they can get their fix from pictures on the Internet.”