September 17, 2009

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Jennifer’s Body (R)
In case you haven’t watched Mean Girls lately, Jennifer’s Body is here to remind you that teenage girls are evil — particularly when they are possessed by a flesh-eating demon.

Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is the sorta nerdy, good-girl friend of Jennifer (Megan Fox), the sorta slutty bewitcher of teen boys. Needy has a sweet boyfriend in Chip (Johnny Simmons); Jennifer has inappropriate relationships with older townies and drags Needy to a local bar one night so she (Jennifer) can hit on the lead singer in the band. The band — Low Shoulder — is led by Nikolai (Adam Brody), an eyeliner-wearing, scruffy-facial-hair-having poseur who personifies a certain kind of alternative rock that I simply can’t bring myself to listen to. Needy immediately pegs him as emo-sleaze but Jennifer seems enthralled by him — so much so that she doesn’t even notice when the bar catches fire around them. Luckily for Jennifer, Needy pulls her out of a bathroom window. Unluckily for Jennifer, she then stupidly decides to get in a van with Nikolai and his band boys.

Needy knows something horrible will happen and this is confirmed the next time she sees Jennifer — when the blood-covered freakishly grinning girl sneaks up on Needy in her dark kitchen. The next morning, Jennifer is back at school like nothing happened (if a bit more soulless in her biting snarkery than normal) and Needy is desperate to figure out what’s going on with her friend.
Like, evil much?

I’ll grant you that Jennifer’s Body isn’t, strictly speaking, particularly great cinema but it is a damn entertaining movie. In with all the squirting gore and Maxim-ish Megan Fox close-ups (and, yes, of course, a girl-on-girl kissing scene), there’s some clever stuff about the nature of friendships and the way girls define themselves against each other (Needy is allowed to show off her small waist when she’s with Jennifer but not her boobs because boobs are Jennifer’s thing). And it’s just wickedly funny, from its delightful Adam Brody performance as every lead singer in every whiny-boy band to its use of a Hole song (“Violet,” not “Jennifer’s Body”) to pump up the girl rage factor of the movie’s punchline.

Perhaps the fittingness of the Hole song speaks to why this movie speaks to me — Diablo Cody here and in Juno writes about teenagers now but her teenage years were roughly in the same generation as mine. Hole is for anger; catty expressions of bitchiness (“cross out Needy”) are at their most terrifying when they sound slightly pouty and girlish (a la Heathers); girls signal their friendship with jewelry from Claire’s Boutique. Even the adults fit into this retro world — J.K. Simmons plays a teacher who could be straight out of a John Hughes movie; Amy Sedaris as Needy’s mom is some kind of Bizarro World version of the Gilmore Girls dream mom. OK, derivative — but I’ll happily play these reindeer games all day long.

A little too hip to be believed? Self-referential? Wordy? All these criticisms could also be leveled at Juno, but Jennifer’s Body has a naughty side that scoffs at Juno’s earnestness and dares you not to laugh. B+

Rated R for sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use. Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody, Jennifer’s Body is an hour and 42 minutes long and opens in wide release on Friday, Sept. 18. It is distributed by 20th Century Fox