Sunday, September 20, 2009

What A Ho

As per usual my "movie review" is going to have some sort of cultural freak out in the middle of it, so buckle up, friends. This won't be long, but let’s jump into some Body talk.

The box office numbers are supporting the haters’ stance that Jennifer’s Body sucks. Now, everyone with the slightest shred of self awareness knows that if they think this without having seen it, they’re judging this movie based on two things: Juno, which is a different movie, and Megan Fox, who has been damned by some of the most exploitative non-porn roles to come down the cinematic pike in recent years, and who has not yet backed up that persona with what the public feels is a requisite amount of talent or humility to make it palatable. If you hate patter, banter or stylized reality, yeah, you probably hate Diablo Cody. If you hate whorish things, the way The Office’s Angela does, you hate Megan Fox. So you, hater, are probably filled with loathing all the way to your creamy center at the mere concept of Jennifer’s Body. And I don’t blame you.

The thing is, Jennifer’s Body is neither Diablo Cody nor Megan Fox. It includes distillations of them that delightfully warp the realities of both, but the movie isn’t about them. It’s about the painfully familiar and horribly toxic Best Friend relationship, something every single woman or girl I have ever met knows intimately, the horror of which is give physical form on screen. This movie, similarly to The Descent, I thought, is a horror movie for girls.

There has been endless bitching about the continued fetishizing of Megan Fox, and in regards to films like Transformers and even How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, I’ve done my totally reasonable, fair share. You have to understand: As a pretty average female, it offends every fiber of my being that Megan Fox exists to set the imaginary bar that much higher and make girls like me, girls like most of us, feel like absolute shit. We’ve got a right to hate, with the fiery passion of a thousand red hot burning suns, this archetype who is literally worth nothing but sex. There are certain quotes I could happily pull from their context that have Megan Fox declaring this to be the case, herself. She’s commodified to within an inch of her life, and as far as Hollywood and the tabloid press are concerned, that price tag is set by her looks and her looks alone.

Exactly like a high school it girl.

So the casting is perfect, to start. Amanda Seyfried is a wonderfully talented comedian. She is adorable but, when not made up and dressed well, when she looks like a normal person and is stood next to Megan Fox who… does not… she fits her role perfectly. People have complained that Seyfried is who they went for as the ‘plain Jane’. But she’s not supposed to be a ‘plain Jane’, she's supposed to be a high school girl. Everyone gets relegated to roles they aren’t in high school. Needy is smart, quirky, and sexual. She has an adorable boyfriend. So people getting pissed at that casting are just projecting. Sorry.

The horror in the film is well done. I almost said excellent, but I‘m trying to be true to the film, which was very good, but not great. However, it‘s my knee jerk reaction to all the vicious hating and, I think, deeply prejudiced reviews of this movie to be more ardent in my support of it. It‘s a movie with faults, it could have been better, but that doesn‘t mean it‘s not good, and it doesn‘t mean it‘s not valuable and important to the genre. It’s violent, it’s bloody, it’s multitudes less graphic and sexualized than what comes out in most slasher movies, and it is largely a slave to the emotional state of the characters involved. Several reviews I’ve read have condemned it for being falsely-feminist, and they’re wrong. I can see why, with the long shot of Jennifer swimming naked through a clear, placid lake, they would snap back and accuse the film of being anti-feminist while purporting to be otherwise. I say again: They’re wrong. There is less sex in Jennifer’s Body than the majority of horror films released in any given year, and what there is is a) mostly verbalized, in which case there’s less sex in Jennifer’s Body than in 90% of all movies released in a given year (at least recently), and b) when it’s shown it’s addressed with humor and taste. Jennifer doesn’t actually have sex in the film. Not once. Needy does, for four minutes, with her boyfriend. Sex plays a role, just not the one typical to the genre.

False feminism is saying a movie has strong women because they’re playing military personnel, and then having those military personnel raped by mutants in California mountains. Hills Have Eyes, I’m looking at you. Again. I really hate you.

io9 made a wonderful point about the lesbian kiss sequence, which is that when threatened, Jennifer relies on the one tool in her possession, her “overpowering sexuality”, which Needy- who is partly in love with Jennifer and partly hates Jennifer and has always, always needed Jennifer, and who has previously had an intimate relationship with Jennifer in their tween fumblings before they entered the world of Having-Physical-Relationships-With-Boys- gives in to for half a minute before freaking out and SPOILER promptly kicking Jennifer out of her room END SPOILER. Again, there is the surface titillation, the almost pre-requisite non-lesbian Girls Kissing moment, but it’s not there for your arousal, it’s there for Needy’s journey and Jennifer’s floundering power-play. More so than any chick flick I have seen, this movie is for girls. Male participation is optional.

Case in point, the necklace moment. A trinket that holds no power other than what it represents to the girls, the act of its removal shocks Jennifer out of her attack, and undoes her. A BFF necklace. They probably got them at Claire’s. When they were ten. But in the world of the film, it is a mystical amulet, as powerful as the knife used in Jennifer’s murder or the words spoken over her before the act. Most of the men I’ve heard talk about the film mention that moment in particular as being cringe-worthy and corny, and most of all bizarre. I have not yet spoken to a girl for whom that scene did not resonate, didn’t hit something deep in them. Even if you never had one of those necklaces, you know what it means, the way you know what BFF can mean. A best friend is frequently not a ‘best friend’. They’re someone you’re tied to, through whatever events, and remain tied to, for whatever reason. When you’re friends with someone long enough, someone you don’t really necessarily like, but who you’ve nonetheless spent that much time with, your relationship becomes about domination and submission; finding, testing and expanding your boundaries; exerting your will and desires over someone else. This all sounds very dark, but it can be as basic as using someone to make you look better at a club (as Needy describes at the beginning of the movie), or using someone as nothing but a sounding board for you to talk about your life, your needs, your self about, completely disregarding and not caring about the other person’s life or what they have to say. Someone to keep around to assert yourself over. Find me a girl who hasn’t been on either end of this, and I’ll show you a robot or an alien.

Jennifer’s Body is a pretty good movie. It’s sure as hell a fun movie. I’m shocked that the possibility of spectacle, given Fox’s almost bipolar media presence, wasn’t enough to draw the MTV crowd and the US Weekly readers. For all the accusations of hyper-hip-speak and grotesque sexuality (which it IS, on PURPOSE, for a REASON- LITERALLY grotesque), the most shameful aspect of Jennifer’s Body so far is the unwillingness of the audience to meet it half way.

If you want to read another really interesting positive, female perspective, head over to ScarletScribe's review.


fatherwizard said...

I was intrigued by the Diablo Cody/Fox dynamic. Sounds fascinating nd I might give it a shot. Thanks !

synthfiend said...

My wife and I went to see it. While I do think that the movie flowed a bit awkwardly at times – like a comedian that doesn’t quite have perfect timing, I think it deserves to become a cult classic.

It really felt like the comedy was lost on many people. Like they really thought it was just supposed to be a horror flick. I thought it had a great sharp wit, and I was reminded of another favorite of mine, "Heathers."

The movie also had the structure, look, and feel of a bunch of horror flicks I saw in the ’80s. It sure felt like it was intended to be something of an homage (and a parody of sorts) of those films. Good camp.

As for Megan Fox, after the movie my wife and I were discussing that while the movie obviously relied on some Megan Fox hotness, there was plenty of Megan Fox very-not-hotness too, and we actually liked the fact that it wasn't just another "Transformers" type role for her.

One thing that may have been working against the film as far as reviewers are concerned is that horror flicks that pretty much follow the same ol' structure we've seen for about 3 decades now are feeling tired - all the horror flicks I've seen lately that I really thought were great didn't follow this format.

ReelKingdom said...

We've already established that I'm a boy, and therefore don't have a soul, so I'm not going to rehash the gender argument. It connects with girls much more than guys. Where I really disagree is on the horror. There wasn't one moment that was scary or had any type of tension at all. All of the kills were off screen, and we only got glimpses of the carnage Jennifer left behind her. So, while I thought there were a lot of funny moments, and we can chalk my not connecting to the characters to the gender thing, I just can't get on board with saying this has any good horror moments at all.

Karen said...

Great review! You pretty much described why I liked Jennifer's Body. It was a story about friendship. I usually don't watch horror movies but I gave this one a try because of Diablo Cody and I'm glad that I did.

EruditeChick said...

@Karen Thanks! I liked your write up, too!


Whereas I have always enjoyed horror more when I wasn't shown every graphic detail and was left to my own considerable devices to fill in the gruesome blanks. Things I hate: Most slasher movies. Things I love: Hitchcock movies. A movie really has to earn it for me to be impressed or interested by graphic depictions of gore.

ReelKingdom said...

I wasn't advocating gratuitous gore and I certainly don't like where American horror has gone. I felt that the kills could have been done in a way that was both fun and gory while still having a purpose. If done properly, it would have gone with the over the top theme and helped show what a monster Jennifer really was. Cody references how gory the kills are ("lasagna with teeth") but we don't get to see it, and what we do see doesn't match up with what we're told. As it was, I felt no connection to the kills, just as I felt no connection to the movie in general. Then again, what do I know? I'm just a hairy, sweaty Neanderthal :P

EruditeChick said...

@ReelKingdom LMAO! Well, at least you know your limitations. said...

it looks she may have escaped total career destruction for a least a little while longer...

dcs315 said...

I concur wholeheartedly with your review. But I love the horror sequences b/c it left lots to the imagination. It showed enough without showing too much. And yes, it will be a cult classic.