Sunday, September 20, 2009

TIFF09: JENNIFER'S BODY—Peter Galvin's Review

While most of the Twitch team caught Karyn Kusama's Jennifer's Body at Toronto's Midnight Madness, Evening Class contributing writer Peter Galvin caught the film's press screening in San Francisco. Though Twitch editor Todd Brown cautioned viewers to "adjust expectations accordingly", he credited Jennifer's Body for being "a much sharper than normal stab at PG-13 horror comedy" and predicted that it "will, no doubt, play strong to its intended audience." According to indieWIRE's Anne Thompson, however, the film "opened soft" this weekend with some confusion as to who its "intended audience" truly is. She characterized the film as "a classic tweener: neither a horror thriller for men, nor a coming-of-age horror-comedy for women." At The Auteurs Daily, David Hudson has scooped up the decidedly mixed-to-negative reviews, with only a few cheering the film on as an acceptable genre piece that will gain a cult following. My thanks to Peter Galvin for sharing his thoughts with both The Evening Class and Twitch readerships.

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There's a great untapped market for Jennifer's Body. Men like blood and hot chicks, sure. Check. But instead of the tired slew of female victims being stalked and dismembered, writer Diablo Cody flips the script, making men the targets. It’s a feminist's dream. Hell, it's a college essayist's dream. Written, directed by, and starring strong, tough women, will the male-oriented horror audience flock to theatres to watch their male facsimiles be dismembered? So long as they're not expecting to actually see much of the dismemberments, they just might.

Jennifer and Needy (short for Anita; I catch the pun) are best friends. They've been BFFs since they were kids and swore to always be true to each other. Or at least Needy swore; Jennifer has always been more of an egotistical, hyper-sexual, selfish brat. Definitely not a virgin. So when a fire at the local "nightclub" results in a struggling indie-band sacrificing Jennifer to Satan, she comes back as a flesh-eating demon. And she's got a whole high-school of hormonal boys just dying for a date with her.

Right off the bat, this is very much Diablo Cody's film. All that love-it-or-hate-it dialogue you remember from Juno is back in full-force. However, I think horror might be a more appropriate avenue for Cody's limitless pop-culture references. Perhaps I'm less sympathetic to made-up catch-phrases in a coming-of-age film than I am in a teen-horror film, but here I was able to take it in stride as part of the charm. I don't even know if high-school kids talk anything like this, but I'll be damned if Cody hasn't got me convinced that they do. So, for what it's worth, I decided to strap in for a good time.

It's hard not to when the actors are having such a good time themselves. No doubt Megan Fox is a little zany—and the recent character she has created in the tabloids makes it a bit hard to separate fact from fiction—but she absolutely works in this role, delightfully making the audience squirm. Perpetually the second fiddle, Amanda Seyfried really comes into her own here. I've always found her a convincing actress, but the extra breathing room she has as the "final girl" hopefully gets her more starring roles in the future. Filling out the supporting cast, both Adam Brody and J.K. Simmons appear to be having the time of their lives, stealing every scene they're in as the lead singer of the indie band and a high-school teacher, respectively.

Overall, Jennifer's Body lays more squarely on the comedy side of this horror-comedy. Cody has seen enough B-movies to parody many of the more well-worn tropes—at times reminiscent of Slither—and it is often laugh-out-loud funny, even if Cody employs a "kitchen sink" comedic strategy. On the other hand, the horror doesn't fare nearly as well. In addition to skimping on the gore, the scares are flat and tedious, and I couldn't help but see squandered potential, most notably during the underwhelming climax.

But like I said, there's a market for this. Forgetting the subtext and satire for a minute, this is a movie written by a big kid for little-er kids. On that level, it should succeed with its intended market, and it shows a lot of potential for more films like this. If you can handle another round of Juno-logue, aren't looking to be scared, and aren't expecting Megan Fox's nipples, it's an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek effort.

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1 comment:

alan orthman said...

too bad for Megan Fox, eventually she'll have to actually do some acting at which point she'll be done for; but it looks she may have escaped career destruction for a least a little while longer...