Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: Jennifer's Body

Guess I'm a Diablo Cody sycophant, because I loved "Jennifer's Body." All the complaints I read going into the film -- that it was too self aware, the dialogue was too cutesy and funny for its own good and that the plot was inane and predictable -- were exactly the reasons I loved the movie.

I hate to be the guy who comes out and complains that few understand this film like I and the small cadre of supporters do, but screw it, I'll be that guy. This movie thrives on its intended level of "Scream"-style horror comedy, blazes through its running time and had me laughing throughout. I suspect a subliminally orchestrated mass takedown of screenwriter Diablo Cody, who some whined undeservedly took home an Oscar for "Juno." The inexplicably negative reaction to the movie reminds me of the hateful burning of Kevin Smith's "Mallrats." Not that "Jennifer's Body" comes anywhere close to the majesty of "Mallrats," but at the risk of sounding like a right wing radio George W. Bush apologist, I'll declare that history will look back fondly on this movie.

Enough about how others reacted to the movie. I'll spend the rest of the time here gushing about what I loved:

*I loved Megan Fox. In her first true lead role, she handles the character of maneater Jennifer Check with aplomb and nuance. She owns this sucker thoroughly, and if she ever evolves into a respected, awards-flirting actress, this film will be the launching pad that made that happen. For the first time she proves she has a real talent other than uttering attention-drawing press junket quotes. She sells Cody's verbal gymnastics with skill and conviction, and shows excellent range, displaying viciousness, seductiveness, insecurity and misery, sometimes all at once.

*I loved Amanda Seyfried. As strong as Fox is in this movie, Seyfried is twice as great. Through "Big Love," the disaster that was "Mamma Mia!" and a few spot roles, she's always been strong, but Seyfried carries the crucial beating heart of the film in her bespectacled doe eyes. A lost, desperate soul hopelessly in love with her too-aware user of a best friend, her cheekily-named character Needy Lesnicky (props for Cody for not going overboard and replacing the "i" in the last name with "oo") grounds the film just enough to prevent the antics from skidding off into "Scary Movie" territory.

*I loved that the movie made dirty jokes about tampons, PMS and periods. These are jokes male screenwriters wouldn't have been able to pull off, and Cody not only uses her feminine license but makes the jokes stingingly funny rather than gratuitous.

*I loved Cody's writing. Sure, everything in this movie seems like second-string pop-culture referencing wordplays that didn't make the cut for "Juno," but guess what -- Cody is apparently so damn good that her fifth-string material could still best 90 percent of what passes for high school-set horror flick dialogue. Sure, her characters don't talk the way real people talk. Her stylized patter this time out got me as giddy as "Brick," a movie everyone gushed over.

*I loved how deliberately awful the special effects were, and how the characters poked fun at the silliness of projectile vomiting and demonic levitation. Her characters are aware they're in a movie without being aware you're watching, if that makes sense. Cody hits the same notes Quentin Tarantino did in "Inglourious Basterds," and he gets worshipped while she's reviled. Not fair.

*I loved the bit that takes place during the end credits, set to Hole's "Violet." The triumphantly vengeful tone of the epligoue helps underline the movie's underlying message of the dispiriting lie of outward beauty, humankind's fallacy of overlooking flaws in blind pursuit of that hypnotizing quality, brought to life with the sick dynamic of how groupies and celebrities exploit one another.

"Jennifer's Body" doesn't fulfill the promise Cody displayed in "Juno," but if the release order of her films had been reversed, this movie would have been given a much better chance of success by the tastemakers. Now Cody will probably face the Richard Kelly stigma of being a flash in the pan who fell into obscurity. But Kevin Smith faced a similar obstacle and overcame it with the magnificent "Chasing Amy," and Kelly, well, hopefully "The Box" will at least be OK. Cody, here's hoping you've got a "Chasing Amy" in you to make the doubters make like Jennifer Check and eat their hearts out.

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