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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Defending Jennifer’s Body

Spoiler Warning: This column contains spoilers about the film Jennifer’s Body. Consider yourself forewarned and forearmed.

Is Jennifer’s Body really as bad as some critics say, or are some folks just lime-green Jell-O over anything that has Diablo Cody‘s name attached?

I thoroughly enjoyed this film from start to finish, in part because I thought I was a fun romp that kept me engaged throughout, but also because there were specific things about the film that I liked. For starters, Jennifer’s Body is a horror film in which no innocent female character gets stalked, raped, tortured or brutally murdered by a psychotic or sociopathic male. Granted, a few guys become the victims of Jennifer’s lust for blood, but she’s possessed by a demon, so is that really her fault? Even better (though no doubt plenty of horny adolescent boys — and their grown-up male counterparts — find this a serious flaw with the film) there’s no gratuitous female nudity in the film. In fact, compared to a lot of horror films, it’s downright chaste.

With sexpot Transformers babe Megan Fox in the role of the sexy high school chick from hell, a lot of directors would have been tempted to slip some Fox-y nudity into the film to satiate the perpetual desire of the male sector of the audience to see as much of Fox as possible. But aside from one from-a-distance shot of a nude post-cannibalism swim in a lake (hey, a girl has to clean up after a big meal) and some revealing outfits, director Karyn Kusama presents Fox as physically attractive and unattainable without gratuitously sexualizing the actress in the way Michael Bay has with the Transformers flicks.

I also liked that Jennifer’s Body has some smart ideas about female relationships underneath the surface of the story. While it’s about a girl who gets possessed by a demon and develops a taste for snacking on boys, it also has a lot to say about the nature of female friendships and girls who are like Jennifer, even before she was possessed.

Jennifer is one of those insecure pretty girls who attaches herself to a less-attractive “best friend” so that she’ll look even better by contrast. She’s the kind of friend who subverts and subtly undermines her BFF, then tries to make it appear as though her friend is the one imagining or over-exaggerating slights or offenses. In a piece about the film on the blog Girldrive, the author addresses the girl-on-girl kiss between Jennifer and best pal Needy (Amanda Seyfried) in the film, astutely observing that this scene, “boner bait” though it may be, is about the sexual tension that often exists in female friendships, particularly in adolescence. Jennifer’s Body goes there, and that scene is actually pivotal to best friend Needy’s arc as a character, not just a titillating moment to appease the horny boys.

I found it particularly interesting that the script in general defines the female characters much more as they relate to each other than by their relationships to male characters, something rarely seen in films of any genre. Needy has a great boyfriend, but she’s driven and defined more by the pull of her friendship with Jennifer than anything else; we see from both the sandbox flashback scenes and the girls’ later friendship that Jennifer is and has always been the alpha, with Needy filling the role of admirer, server of Jennifer’s needs, cushion against Jennier’s insecurities, and feeder of her ego. Boys, of course, also serve the role of feeding Jennifer’s ego, and there’s an edge of cruelty to Jennifer’s interactions with males even before she turns into a man (or is that boy?) eater; that underlying self-satisfied smirk of callousness that lurks beneath the surface of her relationship with Needy as well.

When Jennifer is possessed by the demon and is hungry for flesh, she can’t bring herself to devour Needy, so she feeds instead upon the boys who’ve ogled and objectified her (though I find it not insignificant that Jennifer — not unlike Fox herself —  objectifies herself by the way she dresses and acts). As a demon-possessed cannibal, she lures her meals in with her curves and “heat-seeking missles,” but even befoe her possession Jennifer is a girl well aware of her own sexual power and the ways in which boys can be controlled by the allure of tits and ass. Ultimately, though, what brings Evil Jennifer’s dark soul the most satisfaction is taking and consuming the boys that Needy likes — especially her boyfriend Chip.

What Jennifer becomes after being possessed is who she really was all along, magnified. Like an alcoholic or drug addict whose addiction frees their inner asshole to come to the forefront of their personality, Jennifer’s demonic possession doesn’t really change her at all; it just allows her inherently cruel and selfish nature to blossom. And when Jennifer goes after Chip — the one thing in Needy’s life that is hers alone and not Jennifer’s — Needy is finally able to cut the cord of their dysfunctional friendship by taking out her friend. In the end, she does escape the institution to go after the indie rock band who caused Jennifer to be possessed, but is she avenging Jennifer, or Chip, or herself?

I also liked that Amanda Seyfried — the less overtly physically attractive of the two female leads — has by far the stronger, more interesting role. Okay, the character name, “Needy,” was perhaps a notch over-the-top. But as a character, Needy undergoes a pretty kick-ass character arc from “less attractive BFF to the hot cheerleader” to boldly confronting her lifelong friend and taking her down. It’s a role — and a performance — that I think is every bit as good asJess Weixler‘s in Teeth or Amber Heard‘s in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

Believe it or not, I actually liked Megan Fox in this film, too; where in the Transformers films she’s been little more than eye candy, in Jennifer’s Body, she actually does give a credible and pretty smart performance. In interviews, Fox has alluded to being aware that she’s perceived primarily as a sex object, and has said that she wants to avoid that over-exposure; perhaps that’s partly what led her to take the role of Jennifer, which required her to be a little fun and campy, and to give a performance that didn’t just rely on her physical assets.

But what about that annoying Diablo Cody dialogue? Oh, c’mon. Yeah, teenagers really do talk in secret teenage code, both to sound “cool” and identify verbally with their tribe — and to make sure the adults around them are befuddled by the phrases they come up with in their conversations. Teenagers are solipsistic and therefore are certain that any adults in their vicinity have little else to do besides listen in on the fascinating conversations they’re having, therefore they must talk in teenspeak. Cody gets this.

On a purely anthropological level, it’s not much different than the language film critics (particularly those of us who frequent the fest circuit) use when we talk loftily over dinner about whether we’re going to see “the new Denis” or “the Desplechin” tomorrow, or what we thought about “the latest Harmony Korine.” We have our little codes and quirks of language that we use to identify ourselves as “smart” film people, and teens have theirs that they use to identify themselves as cool teens. Big deal. Cody’s particular ear for dialogue may annoy the hell out of you, but she’s right that teens, like the rest of us, stratify ourselves socially in part by use of language.

Is Jennifer’s Body the most terrifying horror film to come down the pike lately? Nah, it’s not. It’s really not that scary at all, in fact — but neither do I think it was intended to be. I’d put Jennifer’s Body in the same horror category as other indie horror films like Teeth (82% on Rotten Tomatoes), Black Sheep (71%), Dance of the Dead (80%) and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (it might surprise some of you to learn that Mandy Lane only has a 50% RT rating). All of these films, by the way, were fest-circuit horror flicks with at least as much campiness as scariness. Jennifer’s Body, which is a campy, fun romp, has been criticized by some for not being scary enough — but I’d be willing to bet many of those same critics didn’t take issue with those other films.

I honestly feel that if Jennifer’s Body hadn’t had Diablo Cody‘s name attached to it and was just another campy little indie horror flick on the fest circuit, it would have had a very different critical response. But hey, prove me wrong. If you liked any of the above films (especiallyTeeth, which has some very similar themes and execution) but hated Jennifer’s Body, I’d love to get responses from you detailing why, in purely objective terms — preferably without any reference to Diablo Cody or lime-green Jell-O.

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon