Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: David Fincher’s Mank, about Herman J. Mankiewicz’s work on Citizen Kane, is coming soon to Netflix. Before it drops, check out these earlier films penned by some of Hollywood’s most famous screenwriters.
Diablo Cody won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Juno, and in the process became far more well-known than most screenwriters who don’t also direct. After publishing a blog and memoir about her time as an exotic dancer, Cody had her first script snapped up and produced in relatively short order; by the time the Oscars rolled around, a cruel and pointless backlash seemed overdue. The 18-month wait for Jennifer’s Body, then, must have been excruciating for anyone who drew their critical knives as soon as a quippy, pregnant teenager first said (horrors!), “Honest to blog.”
Cody’s actual horror comedy, stylishly directed by Karyn Kusama, stars Megan Fox as a teenage girl who becomes a literal boy-eater after she’s possessed by a demon. Fox drew additional attention to the project, through both the movie’s misguided, sex-heavy marketing campaign and a truly Herculean feat of misogyny that somehow allowed the female lead of two Transformers movies to bear the brunt of disdain for Michael Bay’s dumb toy/military commercials. Fox spouting slangy Diablo Cody teenspeak was apparently the perfect target in 2009; now she seems just plain perfect as Jennifer, tossing off Cody’s weirdest lines with hilarious nonchalance. One of the best runners is Jennifer’s habit of referring to all males as boys, as in her insistence that PMS was “invented by the boy-run media to make us look crazy.” It gets even Cody-er when a possessed Jennifer inexplicably suggests watching the forgotten Emma Roberts vehicle Aquamarine. (“It’s about this girl who’s, like, half-sushi.”)
As good as Fox is here, she’s also not really the lead; the point-of-view character is Anita (Amanda Seyfried), nicknamed “Needy” presumably for her long-standing attachment to Jennifer. One of Cody’s smartest conceits, and one that probably vexed some audiences, is the ambiguity of Needy and Jennifer’s feelings toward each other. Rather than draw a clear line dividing their closeness and Jennifer’s demonic betrayal, their friendship is a little bit fraught before her transformation and lingers for a long while afterward, reflecting the unpredictable, sometimes volatile nature of lifelong besties who may be growing apart. Although Jennifer’s Body has the bones of a slasher movie, its horror is more psychologically acute than jump-scare tense. Needy and Jennifer feel like real people even when they’re heightened.
Some of the heightening comes from Kusama’s direction, with its split-diopter shots and gothic-tinged finale. But Cody’s writing is front and center—and a feature, not a bug. Although she’s since moved on to less quippy and more adult-oriented stories, Cody’s teen comedies stylize her keen understanding of how people use references, tastes, and jokey slang to project self-images. (“I like the same things she likes,” Needy says at one point to defend her sometimes lopsided alliance with Jennifer.) She also gets how popular culture can bite back; Jennifer winds up possessed because of a botched Satanic ceremony performed by Killers-esque indie rockers Low Shoulder, whose hacky hit song becomes an anthem at Jennifer and Needy’s traumatized high school. Back in 2009, the movie’s mordant wit was received as Cody stubbornly refusing all of that generous advice that she modulate her voice to some imagined standard of tastefulness. Now it feels more like a justified show of confidence.