“Jennifer’s evil,” high school senior Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) frantically explains to her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). “She’s actually evil, not high school evil.” Needy, resourceful and bookish, has done enough research (thanks to the Occult section of her school’s library) to come to the conclusion that her lifelong best friend, the popular and abnormally attractive Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), is no longer just her shitty BFF but also her shitty BFF who has become — gulp — possessed by a demonic entity.
How does she know?
Maybe it’s the way Jennifer likes to vomit up a black substance chunkier than the gunk Regan from The Exorcist spewed out forty-some years ago, the way she can slice up her arm with a butcher knife, burn her tongue with a cigarette lighter, get stabbed by a pack of lunatic rockers, and still manage to heal herself in an instantaneous snap of a finger akin to X-Men’s own Wolverine. Or maybe it’s the way she devours the flesh and blood of unsuspecting romantic liaisons like a black widow spider. Or maybe it’s her sudden lack of conscience, which causes her to make jokes in the middle of class about all those coincidental local murders. It could be nothing at all — perhaps a bad case of PMSing? But like Jennifer reminds her alleged best friend halfway through the film, PMSing is something the male-dominated media made up in order to make an excuse as to why females might get moody. So there’s only one conclusion to turn to: Jennifer is possessed. Hell is a teenage girl after all.
Back in ’09, Jennifer’s Body was hyped for both being the film featuring blockbusting It-Girl Megan Fox in a leading role and also as the follow-up for screenwriter Diablo Cody, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay two years previously for Juno. A box-office bomb and a critical mix-up, it has long since been forgotten, a teen horror comedy undeservedly considered to be a chance to grab the attention of the male audience Twilight couldn’t muster.
So it’s a shame that Jennifer’s Body is more a misunderstood oddity with a degree of wit comparable to 1989’s untouchable Heathers, blacker than black but funny as hell. You’ve got to be a little twisted to find joy in the humor, but I don’t think I’m so much twisted as I am appreciative of the very literal approach Cody takes with the “high school is hell” cliché, concocting a brilliant cocktail of teen angst and actual threat. Her famous pop culture-infused zingers are all here, and so are neuroses that manage to be flavorful and observant. She knows her characters well enough to throw tongue-in-cheek curveballs at them without the doubts of the audience murdering her oddball sensibilities. To take it seriously (think of it as a better than usual B-movie — one critic compared it to Drag Me to Hell) would be a mistake. It’s made to have fun with.
And now that the erotic smoke has cleared from Fox’s public persona, we can now appreciate her as a sultry but perfectly cast leading character, delivering Cody’s snarky lines with a vicious snap. And since Seyfried is now an established name rather than the up-and-comer she was back then, we can delight in her pluckiness, her charm as an unwitting protagonist.
So blink a few times and look again — Jennifer’s Body isn’t a failure but a horror comedy for the ages, a cult classic in the making. Cody didn’t make a misstep and neither did Fox; they, instead, got caught in the crossfire of a public expecting something trashy, something provocative, something to cash-in on the vampire craze but got something smart. Six-years-ago, nobody got it — but decades from now, don’t be surprised if people are still laughing at Twilight and are instead deciding to pay tribute to Jennifer’s Body. It’s too distinct to pass along, and the mainstream rarely gets this risky. B+