Cultural infamy: Dude, Megan Fox totally makes out with Amanda Seyfried! I’m gonna drop 10 bucks just to see that! Well, at least that’s what the studio and producers behind Jennifer’s Body hoped would happen. They also hoped the girl-power theme—women as the aggressors, not victims—would resonate with women. As writer Diablo Cody told Reuters, “If I had gone to this movie as a teenage girl, I would’ve come out of it feeling totally inspired. I would’ve wanted to write, I would’ve wanted to create, and I would’ve felt like I watched something that was speaking to me.”
Is she sure she didn’t mean her other film, Juno? Because those are stratospheric goals for a horror-comedy about a teenage girl and her succubus best friend, and unsurprisingly, Jennifer’s Body didn’t meet them. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs buried it opening weekend—and so did The Informant!, Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself, and Love Happens. Cloudy made $30.3 million that weekend, and Jennifer’s Body earned $6.8 million—pretty dismal in an industry where opening weekend usually makes or breaks a film. Months and months later, Jennifer’s Body reached that $30 million mark in worldwide gross. Cody later wrote in her column for Entertainment Weekly that the film flopping made her feel like she was finally a part of Hollywood.
Curiosity factor: Like the rest of The A.V. Club, I enjoyed Juno, even as its cleverness bordered on suffocating. The quip-heavy dialogue made artificial what was otherwise a genuine film about a teenage girl who gets pregnant. As much as Juno announced Cody as a new talent, it also provided a warning: Left to her own devices, Cody could unleash the quipocalypse. And that looked like it might happen going into Jennifer’s Body, as she rode a wave of acclaim—not to mention a Best Original Screenplay Oscar—from Juno. Initially, I stayed away, especially after I read Scott Tobias’ D+ review.
The viewing experience: Familiar. There’s no watching Jennifer’s Body without thinking of Heathers—it even has a band whose music provides a theme song for the community (Big Fun’s “Teenage Suicide—Don’t Do It” in Heathers; Low Shoulder’s “Through The Trees” in Jennifer’s Body).
Then, of course, there’s the dialogue. Here are three snippets from the first 12 minutes:
Jell-O? Salty morsels? Smart bombs? Megan Fox glides through Jennifer’s Body smugly dispatching zingers that test the limits of believability. In Juno, it was “honest to blog”; in Jennifer’s Body, this arrives around the 38-minute mark:
“Move on dot org”? Nearly 40 minutes into a 102-minute film, viewers may feel they’ve put in too much time to give up, though Jennifer’s Body never rewards their perseverance, even those just holding out for Seyfried and Fox to kiss. If that’s all you want to see, here, we’ll save you the effort of actually watching the rest of the movie:
It goes on for another 20 seconds, but you get the gist of it. No one gets naked, and for all the tongue action, it’s pretty tame. If you’re going to include a gratuitous sex scene, include a gratuitous sex scene—this is a half-assed marketing ploy. The scene wasn’t in Cody’s script, and the way it’s clumsily shoehorned into the film makes that even more obvious. “We knew that it was going to play a really big role in publicizing the movie,” Seyfried said in an interview. “We kind of rolled our eyes at the idea of having to make out.”
She isn’t alone. I rolled my eyes too, and not just at that scene. So much of the film feels like empty quipping, with little character development. As Scott noted in his review, the audience never has a real sense of why these girls are such good friends—other than that they’ve known each other since childhood—and there’s never any investment in their characters. It’s all good-girl, bad-girl, high-school stereotypes, and words like “freaktarded.”
Only in a Diablo Cody horror movie would the bad guys be [Spoiler!] a careerist indie-rock band, but Adam Brody’s explanation of why Fox must be sacrificed provides one of the film’s few funny moments:
Still, that isn’t enough to make Jennifer’s Body memorable. As Seyfried’s character says during a voiceover at the very beginning of the film, “Hell is a teenage girl.” She’s right—but not in the way this movie intends.
How much of the experience wasn’t a total waste of time? Maybe 10 percent? It’s telling that the parts I liked best—Adam Brody, cameos from Christopher Pratt and Amy Sedaris, and a delightfully hammy J.K. Simmons—represented only a tiny portion of the movie. While it’s nice to see Heathers still inspiring knockoffs more than 20 years later—has anyone ever done it well?—Jennifer’s Body just makes the case for the primacy of the source material.