Though rife with occult phenomenon, JENNIFERS BODY is more in the tradition of HEATHERS than BUFFY. This sophomore effort by Diablo Cody explores the intense, baffling, and all-consuming relationships that bind and repel adolescent females to and from one another. Framing it in the context of a horror film overflowing with blood, erotica, humor, and petty self-interest highlights all the right psychological tropes even if the execution is not as assured as Codys previous phenom, JUNO.
As in that film, young love abounds, and while that of Chip (Johnny Simmons) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is romance of a most innocent nature, even as the former assists with the placing of a condom on the latter, it is the girl crush that Needy has on Jennifer (Megan Fox) that throws off the most sparks, for good or ill. Jennifer is the hottest girl in Devils Kettle High School, and her lifelong friendship with Needy is a mystery to everyone but them. Needy, the wondrously named the dork with bad hair, frumpy clothes, who sits in the stands worshipping Jennifers latest flag girl routine in the school gymn. Jennifer waving to Needy with a flirty smile. Sandbox friendships, opines Needy in her voice-over narration, are the truest. Not necessarily the most healthy ones, not necessarily the ones that establish heterosexual credibility, but the ones that rock solid. On the surface, at least. Needy follows Jennifers lead, dressing cute, when ordered, but not too cute, feeding Jennifers ego, but not too cravenly, and always, but always, being there for Jennifers ongoing monologue about the minutiae of her, Jennifers life. The cracks that would inevitably have surfaced through that solid rock are brought to a head one night when Jennifer crushes on the wrong indie rock band and Needy, confronted with a best friend forever who may have become immortal in a bloodsucking way.
Theyre city boys, musicians with cool clothes and eyeliner. Theyre so sophisticated that the conflagration that burns the towns only bar to the ground during their performance fails to make them break any kind of sweat. As for Jennifer, the only effect it has on her is a willingness to step willingly into the bands tricked out van with the custom paint job and the blacked-out windows. They think shes a virgin. She thinks shes going to have a good time. Its a situation that will end badly. When Jennifer shows up later at Needys house, shes covered in blood and behaving even more boorishly than usual. Needy, alone and gobsmacked can only think to clean up the mess before Mom gets home from working the swing shift and weeping as she does.
Its a world where adults are absent during the shadowy hours between sundown and dawn, and comically ineffectual during the day. Amy Sedaris as Needys mother idly relates her bad dreams to he daughter, the ones that conflate her child with Christs crucifixion, while absently chomping down on tub butter. The high school science teacher, hook-handed and earnestly intones platitudes that serve only to point up how very emotionally disconnected these kids are from those who should be nurturing them.
Cody’s blend of humor, horror, and satire is not entirely assured, though she scores more hits than misses as she explores both the victimizing and predatory nature of female sexuality when boobs are brandished as weapons, and the heart drowns in a wash of hormones. As Jennifer feeds on her conquests, the husks she leaves behind are grizzly if surprisingly apt metaphors, as are the contradictory effects on her of what happened in the van. Fox, devouring the bad girl persona with a relish equal to that of Jennifers more literal feeding, is terrifying yet fun. Seyfried, though, is the one who delivers the most subtle performance, never for a moment making Needy work from weakness, but rather from the overpowering, confusing attraction that she feels for Jennifer.
JENNIFER’S BODY has a generous if not entirely unpredictable quotient of shocks, and a restrained if pointed use of gore. The real story is female empowerment, played out on a cosmic scale that allows for no quarter when it comes to falling from grace. And no excuses for not taking control.