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TBTS Reviews: Jennifer’s Body

September 21, 2009

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS, WHICH AREN’T REALLY SPOILERS IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE MOVIE.

Within a day of seeing a movie I can usually come down firmly on one side or the other, deciding whether it was good or bad, and if I would pay to see it again (whether I actually do or not).  This gives me time to go over the movie in my head after the shock and awe has worn off and assess it as objectively as possible.  However, I saw Jennifer’s Body Friday, and I’m still trying to decide where it falls.

Technically, the movie delivers.  The set in most scenes is well-conceived and has a damp, grimy feel consistent with the movie’s themes.  Jennifer’s bedroom seems a little contrived, especially with the prominently featured and appropriately indie Fall Out Boy poster, among others.  And I don’t know what the hell the building is supposed to be where Jennifer and her best friend Needy clash over Needy’s boyfriend.  Overall, though, the props and locations seemed well-suited.

Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Aeon Flux, The L-Word) also uses color and lighting to great effect.  As one of Jennifer’s unsuspecting victims tries to find her house, the warmly lit homes gradually give way to the dark-hued, gloomy hopelessness of a stretch of abandoned houses (this may or may not be a commentary on the foreclosure crisis).  In an earlier scene where the school is grieving after another student has been gruesomely murdered, the periphery of the frames are bluish and washed out, but Jennifer comes sauntering through the center in very brightly colored clothing and make-up.  The clip has narrative worth, but is also aesthetically clever.  Kusama also runs this scene in slow-motion, using that technique sparingly and wisely.  The final fight scene, which is relatively short, has one of the coolest slow-motion sequences I’ve seen in a while.

The camerawork in general is pretty solid, with some Wes Anderson-like framing and slick visual moments like the steam rising from Jennifer’s skin after a lake swim.  The film editing works, too, especially the juxtaposition of two concurrent “sex” scenes.  The ambient sound adds some creepy moments, and Kusama and Cody pace the film well, building up genuine tension.  So why doesn’t this movie land the knockout punch?

Jennifer’s Body is getting crap for being “too Diablo,” meaning the lines of dialogue are too stylized and witty for the characters speaking them (see criticisms of Juno).  Yes, there are some eye-rollers, like the nicknames Jennifer and Needy have for each other (both refer to feminine hygiene products) and how freely they’re used, as well as several other too-obvious pop culture references.   To be honest, though, I have the same problems with some Kevin Smith movies, especially Mallrats, and I love Kevin Smith’s work.  So I can’t really get on board with the “high school kids don’t talk that way” criticism because a) if I demanded verisimilitude in teenage lingo, I would hang out with more teenagers and b) I graduated high school 15 years ago so I wouldn’t know if this is how “the kids” talk now.

A couple other things were a little bothersome, like the clichéd occult research montage where Needy miraculously finds the book that exactly describes Jennifer’s condition.  At least Cody and Kusama realized this, using the line, “Our library has an ‘occult’ section?” and making the clip blessedly short.  Also, we know a demon possesses Jennifer’s soul and she has to feed on the living to survive and blah blah blah.  But why does that give her the ability to levitate, which only shows up in the last few minutes of the movie?  Why does she vomit black, tar-like noxiousness that doesn’t melt people or turn them evil or do anything besides make a mess, really?  That stuff didn’t seem to serve a purpose.  Minor grievances, though.

Jennifer’s Body didn’t feel like it knew what kind of movie it wanted to be.  It’s listed as a horror-comedy, which it is, but the tone felt very uneven at times.  The bar fire scene, the parts where the parents discover their children murdered—these were infused with some genuine sadness, or as much as a horror-comedy would allow.  The film also gives not much more than surface treatment to the complicated friendship between Jennifer and Needy, which is actually one of the more interesting themes in the movie.  Besides saying “sandbox love never dies,” it’s never really explained why the two women remain BFFs.  And if you’ve read anything about the movie, you’ve heard about “The Kiss,” which is a little gratuitous, but makes explicit the romantic undertones of Jennifer and Needy’s friendship.  The one item I really wish had been fleshed out more is the odd, almost psychic connection Needy has to Jennifer.  The movie includes too many instances of this for it to be a throw-away plot device.  Given other elements of the story, it may be hinting at a sort of Fight Club duality (though Jennifer and Needy are both real in the movie), or a commentary on society’s misunderstanding and mistrust of female sexuality.  It is called Jennifer’s Body, after all.

The ups-and-downs, inconsistencies, and things left unsaid put Jennifer’s Body in the question-mark column, but it’s worth seeing once.  More than that?  Don’t know yet.

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