Jennifer's Body

(2009) ** R
102 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Karyn Kusama. Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J. K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris.

/content/films/3575/1.jpgIn a letter to H.G. Wells, philosopher William James complained of “the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That — with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.” Jennifer’s Body--screenwriter Diablo Cody’s immediate theatrical follow-up to her Oscar-winning script for Juno--sets thoughts swirling about three bitch-goddesses: the teenage variety (namely Megan Fox’s Jennifer), “success” in the commercial cinema, and that fickle mistress called hype.

The hype machine long ago went into overdrive for this ungainly horror comedy, and the actual movie’s modest artistic returns can’t keep up with the implicit pitch line “It’s Heathers meets Carrie!” One doesn’t need an Oscar to work out that plot. Super-hot alpha bitch Jennifer (Transformers pin-up Fox) may be the poster child for insecurity, but she ironically insists on calling her BFF “Needy” (Amanda Seyfried, on her game). Striving to “embody” the “forever” part of “Best Friends Forever,” Jennifer survives her own murder by transmuting into a man-eating succubus.

This development prompts Needy incredulously to tell her sweet but dumb boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), “She’s actually evil--not ‘high-school evil.’” After a few set pieces establishing this fact and some ineffectual confrontations between girlfriends, an ultimate showdown coincides with the Spring Formal, where the dirty girls bloodily fight over Chip. Sorry, am I giving something away?

With a movie like this, it’s all in the execution (literally, in a way). Director Karyn Kusama (writer-director of 2000’s Girlfight) doesn’t get too much in the way of Cody’s hip vibe. There’s a memorable bit of production design in the sequence in which a Goth teen (Kyle Gallner) on his way to meet Jennifer descends into a foreboding suburban tract that may as well be the archetypal “dark woods.” Only Cody would set up such a scene by having Jennifer suggest the date will include renting the obscure 2006 mermaid movie Aquamarine, about “a girl who’s half-sushi…I guess she has sex through a blowhole or something.”

The film’s fatal flaw is in the delineation of the girls’ unlikely years-long “friendship,” which Cody explains away by a single line: “Sandbox love never dies.” Okay, they have a sort of social codependence (though Needy is needier in this regard). Okay, they even have a latent lesbian thing going on (an excuse for Seyfried and Fox to French kiss in tight close-up). But even after she’s been murdered, it’s damn near impossible to sympathize with Jennifer, making the friendship absurd and robbing the story of even the lightest of weight.

Though Juno had crossover appeal, the R-rated Jennifer’s Body aims squarely at a demographic Cody’s age and younger. In place of humanity or sharp social satire, we mostly get the empty calories of the screenwriter’s time-warping pop savvy. The opening scene says it all: Fox, in leg-warmers, splayed on a bed under a Fall Out Boy poster and watching Tony Little hawk exercise products on TV. For the purposes of Jennifer’s Body, feminism means never having to say you’re sorry for making another lame horror movie.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 12/29/2010

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox brings Jennifer's Body home on Blu-ray in a special edition that features both the Theatrical Version and a new unrated Extended Version. The latter doesn't represent a radical rethinking, but it does juggle some scenes and flesh out some of the characterizations a bit more. High marks all around for the video transfer, which accurately recreates the film's theatrical look in color, contrast, and depth; black level is excellent (important considering the many shadowy and/or nighttime scenes), as is fine detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix likewise demonstrates great dynamic range, with surround immersion capable of subtle effects and big jolts.

The disc also features commentary by director Karyn Kusama and writer Diablo Cody (Theatrical Version only) and a commentary by Kusama (Extended Version only) that helps to parse the differences between the two versions.

"Jennifer's Body: The Dead Pool" (14:00, HD) is a solid making-of featurette that especially focuses on the climactic indoor pool scene. Participants include Cody, producer Mason Novick, Kusama, Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, producer Jason Reitman, producer Dan Dubiecki, Johnny Simmons, visual FX supervisor Eric Nordby, special make up FX Greg Nicotero, on set key FX make up Mike Fields, best boy special FX John Sleep, and special FX coordinatory Rory Cutler.

Also on hand: six "Deleted Scenes" (13:55, HD); the "Gag Reel" (4:55, SD); peppy "Video Diaries" (12:50, HD) by Fox & Simmons, Seyfried, Cody, and Dubiecki; a pointless promo montage called "Megan Fox Is Hot" (:56, HD)—okay the point is that Megan Fox is hot; and a "Megan Fox 'Peer Pressure' PSA" (:40, SD) that's definitely worth a look.

Last up is the "Fox Movie Channel presents Life After Film School with Writer Diablo Cody" (26:26, SD), one in a seemingly endless series of unintentionally disspiriting industry interviews created for cable airing and repurposed on Fox's home video titles.

A Digital Copy rounds out the set, for flexibility of playback.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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