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September 21, 2009


Hey, Jennifer's Body is actually good!

Jennifer's Body

Maybe this is some kind of delayed backlash to the Diablo Cody backlash, but I'm going to say it: Jennifer's Body is a better movie than Juno. It's also an unapologetic teen horror movie, so I probably like it in part because I love teen horror movies, and I'm ambivalent about twee little indie movies about meaningful teen issues with a hideously grating soundtrack.

There's a robust tradition of horror movies with gutsy heroines kicking ass (The Final Girl, etc) but this is the first one I've seen that is of, by, for, and about girls. With every boy she devours, Jennifer is really trying to provoke her best friend Needy's attention, jealousy, love, and loyalty--she's the twisted friend who shows her devotion to you by randomly making out with you, then hitting on your boyfriend.

You could read the movie as: a metaphor for combustible female teenage sexuality and sexual power; a revenge fantasy about killing men who exploit teenage girls and turn them into literal and figurative monsters; a story about how best friends navigate their friendships when they start getting into boys; a thoughtful analysis of our cultural obsession with Megan Fox; and a big middle finger to our cultural obsession with Megan Fox.

And while all these layers are going on, it's still a really fun horror movie about an occult ritual gone wrong, and the resulting demon-babe with an insatiable appetite for boy guts. With a decent soundtrack!

While I was watching the movie and thinking about how it's all about the Megan Fox media saturation we live in, I was reminded of Steven Soderbergh casting Sasha Grey to play an expensive prostitute in The Girlfriend Experience, which was about buying and selling the fantasies that we create about people. By casting Sasha Grey, he made an interesting statement about audiences wanting to believe in the characters we watch in movies, even though we know they're really actors playing roles. It was a great idea, but the downside was that Sasha Grey played her character with such flat affectlessness than it was impossible to care very much about her or anything she did. You could argue that Soderbergh isn't interested in audiences caring about his characters and just wants to make experimental movies about the roles people play in society or something like that, but a lead actor that failed to bring any life at all to her character made for an empty-feeling movie. That I still liked. I can't help myself, Soderbergh!

Megan Fox can act rings around Sasha Grey. Megan Fox knows how to play a man-eating sexpot, because she does it in every one of her movies, magazine interviews, TV appearances, and in the thousands of red carpet and publicity shots we've all seen of her. Casting Megan Fox as a sexy demon in a Diablo Cody horror movie is stunt-casting in the same way that casting Sasha Grey to play an expensive hooker is stunt-casting, but this time it worked. Our friend Emily once said that Megan Fox is the most unmediated celebrity in the world--she's famous for appearing sexy, dangerous, and unhinged in interviews. She's unpredictable, and maybe a little nuts. Her recent Rolling Stone interview about cutting herself and her own insecurity sounds like it was created specifically for Jennifer's Body marketing.

In the press, there's Megan Fox, the a gorgeous sexual dynamo who exists to fuel boys' fantasies about her so people will go see her movies. In the movie, there's Megan Fox, the gorgeous sexual devil who exists to fuel boys' fantasies about her so she can feed on their flesh. It's beautiful.

Vulture claims that critics are anti-Jennifer's Body, but I disagree. A.O. Scott wrote a glowing review, and especially likes the movie's treacherous world of female friendship, and Dana Stevens from Slate says whatever you expect of this movie based on what you think about Diablo Cody, you're wrong.

Also, she won't get enough attention for this movie, but I loved Amanda Seyfried as Needy, the best friend heroine. Jennifer's the hot one that all the boys want, but Needy has the world's sweetest boyfriend, a supportive mom (Amy Sedaris!), and a healthy dose of self-respect. I loved the image of Needy tearing across a field in her gigantic poofy hot pink princess prom dress and fluffy blonde hairdo to save her boyfriend and kill the demon. I was glad that director Karyn Kusama (who also did Girlfight) could make a formidable heroine who doesn't need boxing gloves to be tough.

categories: Culture, Gender, Movies, Women
posted by amy at 12:31 PM | #

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Not taking the Soderbergh bait, oh no...

But I will say that Amanda Seyfried has been an unappreciated national treasure for quite a while now. She completely kicked ass with a nearly unplayable role in Veronica Mars (S1), and has been really good in Big Love. I'm really hoping that Jennifer's Body gets her the roles she deserves.

And as for critical reaction: What it's been is wildly divided. This seems to be a hugely love it or hate it movie, with no clear gender-line split. One comment I was intrigued by was someone who thought people had a hard time with a horror movie where boys are victims---it most girl-power horror movies, the boys are always presented as jerks before they get offed, but here they're just as likely to be decent and powerless, which is much more nerve-wracking for many viewers.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at September 21, 2009 3:25 PM

I forgot to say: I liked The Girlfriend Experience! It was memorable and powerful, the flatness just bugged me even though I understand that it was intentional. What can I say, his movies are still a pleasure to watch.

The first thing I saw Amanda Seyfried in was Mean Girls, so it was delightful to watch her play an older, wiser high school character, saying lines like "She's actually evil. Not high school evil."

It's amazing that someone who reviews movies would write a negative review of Jennifer's Body because some of the male victims are nice boys. Even if they were unconscious of their discomfort about powerless male victims, that sounds like the worst kind of review: not taking a movie for what it is, but offering edits that would turn it into something completely different. But I guess most teen horror movies still have a strict moral code that we've all seen a billion times. This was so much more interesting.

Posted by: amy at September 21, 2009 3:52 PM

Yeah---the terribly boring EC Comics morality of most horror films does a lot to keep them childishly reassuring, rather than authentically grueling.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at September 21, 2009 11:47 PM

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