In 2009, the world, pop culturally, was feeling a little more radical. The U.S. had just come out from under what it previously thought was one of its most conservative, retrograde regimes yet, and the freedom of expression in the form of irony, tongue-in-cheekness and camp manifested most tangibly in Diablo Cody’s second feature film, Jennifer’s Body. But while the powers that be of the film industry might have been ready to re-embrace the weird, the public was, apparently, still in a Bush II coma based on its lukewarm–if not completely maligning–reaction to Cody’s sophomore screenplay. Even the clout of director Karyn Kusama, riding high on the praise of Girlfight and Æon Flux, couldn’t bolster the film’s critical reception. Based on the fact alone of the heroine’s name being Anita “Needy” Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried), it’s immediately clear that Cody was all too pleased to take the cachet of winning an Oscar for the commercial camp of Juno and applying it on an even more hyper-surreal level to Jennifer’s Body.
Signature Cody aphorisms like “It smells like Thai food in here. Have you guys been fucking?” or “I wonder if he’s circumcised. I’ve always wanted to try sea cucumber” find their way into the profane mouth of Jennifer (Megan Fox), the anti-heroine/diabolical foil to Needy. But this type of quippage was clearly lost on the standard horror movie audience, perhaps hoping for more gore and less witticism. The clever homages (being led to a dark, abandoned house, creaky doors in the night, etc.) to a genre so rarely turned on its ear fell on deaf ears and blind eyes. And one imagines that it originally stemmed from subverting the usual horror movie trope: the girl being the victim.
No, no, Cody wasn’t having that with Jennifer’s Body. Jennifer, already a histrionic, condescending puta is a demonic luster of boys (even in her human state, to be honest) after being sacrificed by a struggling indie rock band with Adam Brody as its narcissistic, Satan-worshipping lead singer Nikolai Wolf, who explains, “Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days? There’s so many of us. We’re all so cute and it’s like if you don’t get on Letterman or some retarded soundtrack, you’re screwed, okay? Satan is our only chance. We’re in league with the beast now.” The band’s name, Low Shoulder, was in keeping with the barrage of shittily named one-off “indie” groups of the moment (e.g. Lifehouse, Yellowcard, et. al.). What has remained a timeless trend, however, is bands that capitalize on tragedy by donating “some of” the proceeds from a benefit single to the cause in question. Which is exactly how the band rises to fame after the venue they play at, Melody Lane, burns to the ground, along with most of the people in it, prompting national attention directed at their music thanks to their botched satanic sacrifice (yes, Jennifer lied about being a virgin).
As Needy tells the tale of how she turned from “normal” to rage-ridden from her reflective Holden Caulfield position in the loony bin, we’re given the portrait of an inequitable friendship that only Jennifer seems to benefit from. Like her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) says, “You don’t have anything in common.” Yet, in Needy’s mind, “sandbox love never dies”–this, of course, being in reference to how long they’ve known each other. But sometimes it’s better to admit when a friend has served her purpose as opposed to sticking around for her transformation into a boy-eating demon. And this is also what differentiates Jennifer’s Body from your average horror movie: it’s rife with the complexities of a female friendship founded upon resentment and jealousy. Cody doesn’t just write a cannibal scene and call it a night. Instead, she imbues her take on the filmic style with far more camp and depth than anyone would risk–and to top it off, it’s a cross mashup genre of high school movie meets terror.
So even though Jennifer’s Body wasn’t appreciated in its era, perhaps a new generation of creepy kitsch lovers can give Cody’s under loved work the reverence it deserves as essential Halloween/October viewing.