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October 11, 2009

Jennifer's Body

We were very excited to go see the much hyped movie Jennifer's Body because we think Diablo Cody is pretty damn cool and believe it or not, we dig Megan Fox. We weren't sure what to expect from Jennifer's Body because we had heard a lot of mixed commentary on the film before it came out.

There was, of course, the required Diablo Cody hype over the film. Will it live up to Juno? Will it be funny or sexy or stupid or... feminist? Bitch magazine wrote an interesting feminist or anti-feminist pro/con list. They raise some interesting points: the film is written and directed by women (Cody and Karyn Kusama, respectively) and features two strong female lead characters, played by Fox and Amanda Seyfried. And some have argued that perhaps the story of a sexy woman using supernatural powers to destroy young men may have some overtones of female empowerment. Maybe.

On the other hand, it portrays the two leads as stereotypes - Needy, the nerdy blonde and Jennifer, the sexy brunette - as best friends turned rivals (ala Betty and Veronica) - and has a (gasp!) faux-lesbian kiss, so clearly some people were against Jennifer's Body from the start. We were certainly interested in finding out what this movie was really all about.

Oh and before we start the actual review, we just wanted to share the fact that we were actually carded to get into this movie. Yes. Someone questioned whether we were over 18. Really. This has nothing to do with the film itself, but it definitely helped make our movie-going experience even better. Even if they were just humoring us, it still felt good. Our movie-going experience was further enhanced by the fact that instead of the typical popcorn, we were munching on leftover bacon from our drunken brunch. Because bacon is delicious.

Okay, back to the movie... It was gory and funny and sexy at the same time; always a great combination. It wasn't exactly the next great feminist horror movie that some people were hoping for, but you know what, neither Cody nor Kusama ever suggested that they were trying to create the next great feminist horror movie. I think they were just trying to make a funny, fun, clever, kick ass movie and in that respect, they have succeeded.

Yes, Cody has been quoted as saying that she and Kusama, "wanted to subvert the classic horror model of women being terrorized" but that doesn't mean that the film has to meet some impossible feminist standard. From a recent interview with The Frisky:

...here’s a problem that is holding back feminism and you see it on the blogs. We all hold each other up to an incredibly high standard in a way that men do not. Let’s say a woman directs a movie that’s not very good—everybody piles up on her. It’s, like, “No! You’re representing us! It has to be perfect!” And that’s not how it works! Women should be allowed to make bad movies. Good movies. Porno movies. Terrible made-for-TV movies. Women just need to be out there directing as many movies as men do. We don’t all have to be the model woman—what we need is to be more visible. We really, really are tough on each other."

Of course, that's not to say that there aren't some intentional feminist elements added to the film...

So, I’m curious, when you’re writing roles for women, do you purposely try to write a feminist message?

My feminist hat is permanently welded to my head—I definitely can’t take it off! It’s so important for me to write things from the female perspective and in service of women and in the right roles for women. That’s usually what I’m thinking going into it. Obviously, the story goes first. But then my next priority is how am I going to sneak my subversive feminist message into this?

Do you always think the female perspective is the feminist perspective, though?

No, not always. But I think representation is obviously the first step to equality, so if women aren’t being represented in a diverse way in movies, they’re going to remain marginalized.

Some have criticized the movie for being anti-feminist, claiming that Fox's character is objectified and damned basically for being a slut. While I definitely don't think this was Cody's intended message, the fact that Fox's character is referred to as an "impure sacrifice" and cursed to demonhood simply because she wasn't a virgin could feel a little bit slut-shamey on the surface. Although, in reality, she would have died had she actually been a virgin (instead of being able to live on, albeit as a demon). So if anything, the film can be looked at as slut-empowering! Jennifer isn't just sexy, she's sexy... with super powers!

And without stepping further into "objectification" mode, we do have to admit that Megan Fox really is super sexy. Even while eating some dead guy, covered in blood, she still looks kinda hot. You gotta respect that. It's really the true test... if you can still look hot while drinking someone's blood, then you are super hot. (Another good example of this phenomenon is Alexander Skarsgaard as Eric from True Blood.)

One main part of the film that we didn't like was the really annoying fact that the dumbasses from Low Shoulder had a book on witchcraft mixed in with the books about Satanism and the occult in their van. Witches don't worship Satan! They don't even believe in Satan, let alone worship or make sacrifices to him. Witches/Wiccans and Satanists aren't remotely the same thing. I know that this movie isn't exactly supposed to be 100% factual, but can we please get past this offensive misconception already!?

One thing they did get right was the sometimes awesome, sometimes totally messed up dynamic of being a high school girl. "Hell is a teenaged girl." Amidst all the blood and gore and folklore, it's the real life stuff that is spot on. Needy and Jennifer, despite seeming so different, are BFFs since childhood. However it soon becomes clear that Jennifer walks all over Needy, while Needy turns a blind eye to Jennifer's actions for way too long before finally standing up to her. It takes actual bloody violence for Needy to recognize that maybe Jennifer's sort of a bitch.

Needy: You're a terrible best friend. You stole my toys when we were little. You poured lemonade on my bed.

Jennifer: And now I'm eating your boyfriend. At least I'm consistent.

So many critics have referred to this movie as a revenge story and it is, but they're wrong on who the revenge is on. This is not a story of a girl punishing the jerky guys who treated her bad. The guys she goes after are not bad guys. (She'd be better off going after the devil-worshiping indie band that tried to kill her in the first place.) No, this is Mean Girls with a demonic twist. In the same way that people were thrilled to see Queen Bee Regina George get taken down a notch or two, there is a sick satisfaction in seeing Needy take on the evil Jennifer. And that's "actually evil. Not high school evil." We're not really into those stereotypes about female jealousy or rivalry, but the fact is that many of us did know - and were quite possibly terrorized by - a girl like Jennifer.

Since it seems like everyone on Earth has weighed in on the film at this point, we thought we'd round up a few of our favorite quotes from reviews and blog posts:

The fact of the matter is, this film is so radically and refreshingly both funny and scary from a female perspective, the boys simply don’t know what to do with it. Exploring the bloody aftermath of a demonic possession that befalls a small town cheerleader, this film delivers the kind of snarky, brutal, bored, awesome teen banter that made Heathers a cult classic. And while the violence is adequately gorey, the real terror in the plot lies in its metaphorical exploration of obsessive friendship between girls, and how volatile, aggressive, and explosive these bonds can become when children mature into women with more adult urges. In Megan Fox’s Jennifer, women of all ages get the cathartic experience of seeing our own high school’s queen bee challenged by a brainy everygirl who (poignantly portrayed by Amanda Seyfried) actually has a fighting chance of stopping her reign of terror. And topped off with fearless, visually audacious directing by Girlfight’s Karyn Kusama, this singular story, written, directed, starring, and clearly made for women every step of the way, not only is destined to have a class dedicated to it one day at Smith College, but is also downright entertaining enough to be the main attraction at many sleepovers to come. [Bust.com]

It’s a campy, women centric look at the atrocities of being a teenage girl...on the whole the film is not particularly scary. But as a fan of Cody’s work I love how she takes expectations and messes with them. I also love the pop culture laden language and while Cody has talked about the feminism as being subversive, I found it to be very present and overt. [Women and Hollywood]

The press on Diablo Cody, Karyn Kusama and especially Megan Fox has been pretty negative even from some feminists. I’m not saying feminists all need to march to the same drummer, and I know Fox flaunts her looks and has created a persona that can be a big turn off to feminists, but they need to be appreciated by feminists because they are all outspoken women in Hollywood and that rankles feathers. [Women and Hollywood]

In sum, this movie has some refreshing, feministy elements to it…and some annoying parts, too, like the implication that Jennifer needs to literally “feed” off guys in order to stay beautiful, glowing, and healthy. But fuck if I’m going to let feminists tear Diablo Cody to shreds over something like this movie. I find this to be a particularly irritating case of unproductive feminist navelgazing. Horror films are supposed to be built on fantasy–sexual fantasy, murderous fantasy, and everything in between. They’re often silly and usually throwaway* when evaluated in the context of a serious screenwriter’s career. I have to agree with Cody when she says that “we don’t all have to be the model woman–what we need is to be more visible.” And I’m not implying that women should get off easy–just that they shouldn’t be written off after 31 years on earth and a meager two screenplays. Maybe Cody just wanted to have some campy, squeal-inducing fun. I’d argue that she succeeded, without exploiting young women or killing them off in rapid succession. Considering the sizeable chick carnage of other recent teen girl horror movies, that’s actually pretty radical. [Feministe]

And why don’t [some reviewers] understand the film? Because it’s one of the very few honest-to-goodness feminist films out there — and more so then being feminist, it’s one of the few films that views things from a female lens. Boys are there, and make up the majority of the victims in this body horror film, but they’re not a concern. For once we have a story with female main characters who aren’t obsessing about, fighting over, or bitching about boys every five minutes. Jennifer’s Body is about women and how they relate to each other, the horror moments are there for style and allegory, but at its heart the movie is about two girls whose own toxic friendship is eating them both alive. [I Went There]

As a horror movie, Jennifer's Body doesn't fully deliver. But as a comic allegory of what it's like to be an adolescent girl who comes into sexual and social power that she doesn't know what the heck to do with, it is a minor classic...As the movie progresses, Jennifer emerges as the Jessica Rabbit of horror - she's not bad, she's just drawn that way. [Philly.com]

I could not recommend this film for anyone from a Biblical perspective and am struggling to find any true value emerging from any sound critical analyses. Had I not been writing a review on the film, I would have walked after about the first couple of scenes. From its tightly framed graphic scenes to its porn-bred innuendo throughout, the mind reels trying to comprehend how this film can be justified as entertainment which is not subversive to the Christian ethic. Even getting into the movie is an uncomfortable situation. “I’d like to see Jennifer’s Body.” Or how about, “Two for Jennifer’s Body, please.” It’s awkward, at best. [ChristianAnswers.net] [Okay, just kidding about this one.] [But you should totally read the whole "review", it's a laugh riot.] [For someone who claims to be so offended and disgusted by the sexual elements of the film, she sure does take a lot of time to describe all of them in great detail.] [I'll stop with the bracket thing now.]

Overall, we enjoyed Jennifer's Body. It was funny, gory, sexy, clever, and thoroughly entertaining. It might not be as Oscar-worthy as Juno, but not every film has to be. This movie was fun and we would definitely recommend it (not as feminists, not as women, but just as people who like movies). Don't decide not to see it because you've heard that it's not feminist enough, or too feminist, or whatever. If you want to see what all of the fuss is about, or you want to show your support for a "mainstream" movie written and directed by women, or you just think it looks cool, go see it. At the end of the day, it's just a horror movie.

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