Sunday, September 20, 2009
I spend about half of my hours at work in the store before it's open for business, and there's always a steady stream of music playing. Depending on who has the initiative to fire up Pandora or AOL Radio the fare can vary from '90s alternative to hip-hop to metal, but one thing that seems to run through all of my colleagues' playlists are horrid covers of old Top 40 hits by current "punk" bands. (The quotation marks are deliberate) Songs like these are marketed under the "Punk Goes Pop" moniker and are almost without exception crushingly literal and lacking any of the charm that made the songs hits in the first place.
I suppose there could be bands out there that really want to reimagine "Careless Whisper" or "Psycho Killer," but more often than not it's a label-induced cry for attention. I make the point because Diablo Cody's Jennifer's Body script takes out after unimaginative bands desperate for industry traction; it's one of many targets in an imperfect film that arguably has a little too much on its mind. A band called Low Shoulder led by a preening, ambitious lead singer (Adam Brody) capitalizes on the bloody goings on in the fictional town of Devil's Kettle with a inescapable ballad called "Through the Trees." The song is an irritant to Needy (Amanda Seyfried), who is preoccupied with the newly physicalized relationship with her doting boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) and the strange behavior of her best friend and school sex kitten Jennifer (Megan Fox).
One aspect of Jennifer's Body that has gone largely unremarked upon is portrayal of the high school world as sharply divided into cliques. It's a sharp contrast from the relatively benign high school of Juno. Needy seems to have a place at Jennifer's side but must deal with the snide remarks of those who think that Needy's feelings for Jennifer are a little more than sisterly. (Which I'd argue they are on a deeply repressed level) Jennifer is the most desired girl at school but it isn't clear she's the social queen bee and it's that vulnerability that motivates her homicidal behavior. It isn't spoiling anything to say that Jennifer commits several murders during the course of the film; the reasons for her actions are explained on a pure plot level but there's a layer of perhaps too dry satire inserted. Jennifer's behavior is Cody's version of a revenge fantasy for any teenage girl valued only for her body and anyone who has discovered that growing up means losing a friend. The fault lines that run underneath teenage friendships and are discovered at inopportune moments are Cody's primary concern. The since-childhood friendship between Needy and Jennifer seems to be functioning on autopilot. Needy has found a boyfriend and some measure of independence while Jennifer has gone about as far as being the hottest girl in Devil's Kettle can take one.
While I think there is more going on in Jennifer's Body than is apparent at first glance that doesn't mean I think it's flawless. It isn't especially well directed; there are weird crosscuts (between a murder scene and Needy and Chip having sex), it isn't scary enough, and no sense of building towards a climax. There is less "Codyspeak" than in Juno, what there is comes mostly from Jennifer and doesn't add much. As for Jennifer herself, I'd say Megan Fox does exactly what's asked pretty well: look good and bored at the same time, kiss a girl, and get off a couple of one-liners. Cody isn't interested in developing Jennifer's story through character and incident. She wanted to write a loud, bloody, girls rule/boys drool fantasy and she did. Her voice may have become more shrill this time out, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored.