Sunday, September 20, 2009

In Which Jon Writes Way More Than He Intended And Says Much Less

I wasn’t expecting it to be great or anything, but that movie Jennifer’s Body looked pretty entertaining, so when I got up yesterday morning I decided that I’d take in a matinee showing of it.
Because The Universe is an old pro when it comes to messing with me, it naturally made sure that as soon as i tried to make use of the movie listings widget on my Google page the widget wasn’t actually working properly.
After multiple attempts I finally got it to display a list of showtimes, but found that the movie wasn’t actually playing at my preferred theater. I was annoyed, as I didn’t feel like driving out to Regal Countryside, as that’s just too far to travel on Route7 on a Saturday.
However, I thought it odd that such a major release wouldn’t be playing at the theater in Brambleton, and got even more suspicious when I clicked on the link to show all movies playing at that theater and saw that there were only two movies listed as currently playing. It seemed even more unlikely that there were only two movies playing at a theater that has sixteen screens.
Still, every site I checked showed that to be the case, and while I figured it was probably just some sort of glitch or something I also figured that it wasn’t worth driving out to the theater just to find out, so I decided that I’d just check the listings again on Sunday and maybe do the matinee then.
At one point while still mindlessly bagging and boarding comics I went upstairs and noticed that I had a missed call and voicemail on my cell.
It was Stacy calling to see if I was still going to their house for dinner on Sunday and wondering if it would be okay if we had dinner relatively early in the afternoon. So that changed my plans to see the movie on Sunday. I checked the Web again to see if the presumed listings glitch had been worked out and to find out of if there was a late show I could take in.
The glitch hadn’t been fixed on most sites, but eventually I found a site that had a full listing of movies at Brambleton and found that the movie was playing at 10:25.
So I decided to go.
While I was sitting there thinking about how funny it is that there are signs all over the theater proclaiming it a “Cell Phone and Pager-Free Zone,” yet before the movie starts you’re inundated with pretty much nothing but ads for cell phones, someone tapped me on the shoulder.
This struck me as odd, given that I don’t know anyone – it’s probably a testament to my anti-social nature that I’ve lived in Virginia for nearly seven years and have worked for two very large companies, but really am acquainted with only a very small number of people – or at least I couldn’t imagine that any of the people I know would be at that particular movie on a Saturday night.
The question of who it could possibly be was answered before I could even turn around to look, as I heard a familiar voice say “Hey, JonMaki!”
It was a guy who used to be one of the Trainers at work, whom I worked with under my first boss.
(And yes, he always very distinctively says my first and last name together as though they were one name.)
We chatted for a bit before he returned to the group he was with.
So that was random.
During the previews two guys came in and sat down and it was clear from the start that they were going to be loud – and frequent – talkers.
But anyway, on to the movie.
As I said, I wasn’t expecting much, beyond some black humor, Megan Fox looking hot, and based on the previews and a clip I’d seen online, a brief kiss shared between the female leads. (More on that in a bit.)
For those who don’t know – and there are major spoilers ahead – the movie was written by Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for her screenplay for the movie Juno, and is about a high school student named Jennifer who dies and comes back to life possessed by a demon, which turns her into a literal maneater.
The movie’s point-of-view character is Jennifer’s unlikely best friend, Anita “Needy” Lesnicky, played by Amanday Seyfried, who some of you may know from her role as Sarah on Big Love, and some of you will know as the girl from Mama Mia!
(I never saw that movie, and never will – and no, I’m not protesting too much – but the ads for it were largely inescapable, and when I saw them I thought, “Hey, that’s Sarah from Big Love.”)
The movie starts in the midst of things, where we find Needy locked up in some sort of asylum, where she’s known as “Kicker,” for her tendency to kick people. Her voiceover narration moves us back in time two months to a period in which her life was considerably more normal. Hot, popular Jennifer (Megan Fox) and dorky, plain (keep in mind that this is “movie plain/ugly,” which means that she wears glasses) Needy head to a local bar to check out a band whose lead singer Jennifer wants to hook up with.
That’s when things start to go awry. After thrusting herself at the lead singer, Jennifer heads to the bar to get them some drinks (planning to play a game of “Hello Titty” with the bartender to circumvent the fact that she’s underage), and Needy overhears the band having a rather ominous conversation about Jennifer. Needy confronts them, but they ignore her, and Jennifer isn’t dissuaded by Needy’s attempts to convince her that they aren’t as “salty” as she thinks they are.
(More on the “salty” thing in a bit as well.)
A fire breaks out during the band’s performance, and while people are being trampled to death and burning alive, Needy drags an apparently mesmerized Jennifer to safety, only to watch helplessly as the band’s lead singer takes Jennifer to a safe place. Said “safe place” being the band’s van.
Needy goes home and calls her boyfriend to tell him about the fire and Jennifer’s situation and to ask for his help in rescuing her. At that point she hears the doorbell – and at that point one of the loud talkers starts adding his commentary.
(“You ain’t going to answer that door!”)
No one is there, but once Needy goes back inside she’s confronted by Jennifer. A disheveled, bloody Jennifer, (the image of Jennifer’s bloody smile is probably going to haunt my dreams for a while) who’s behaving very strangely (growling like an animal, hungrily devouring an entire chicken that she pulls out of the fridge, vomiting up something that looks like liquefied needles, which writhes around on the floor after being vomited up), and eventually leaves after tossing Needy around, slamming her against a wall, asking her “Are you scared?” and kissing her neck, and then tossing her to the floor.
(Commentary from the jackass: “Why ain’t she go to the bathroom?” “Why ain’t she go to the hospital?”)
The next day finds Needy at school, where the mood is somber, as several students and a teacher had died in the fire at the bar. Then Jennifer shows up, looking none the worse for wear (in fact, she looks hotter than ever), totally unconcerned about the fire, and downplaying her bizarre appearance and behavior at Needy’s house the night before.
The band that had been performing at the bar has been thrust into the media spotlight, as it’s reported that they helped lead survivors to safety, and their star is rising.
(This is a point that’s brought up several times throughout the movie, much to Needy’s annoyance.)
We next find ourselves on the football field where a linebacker whose best friend died in the fire is standing in silence. He’s approached by Jennifer, who expresses her sympathy for his loss and claims that his best friend told her that he always thought the two of them would make a “bangin’ couple.” She leads the linebacker into the woods, begins to seduce him, then goes all monstery and rips him apart.
The next significant scene features Jennifer burning her tongue with a cigarette lighter only to have it instantly heal.
We also learn that as she begins to hunger for boyflesh, Jennifer’s looks degrade and she becomes, as Needy puts it, “Ugly. Well...ugly for her,” and her vitality dips.
We also learn that Needy has something of a hit-or-miss psychic connection to Jennifer. This was hinted at early on in the movie, when Needy announces “Jennifer’s here” to her boyfriend, even though she has no way of knowing that Jennifer had arrived.
(As an aside, whenever we would be walking somewhere my friend Joel had a tendency to walk a bit behind me and to the side, and to mess with me he would move from side to side so that when I would turn to say something to him he wouldn’t be there. In response to this I developed what I called a “Joel Sense” that allowed me to know where he was in relation to me at all times.)
Jennifer makes her next meal out of a boy who was something of a would-be rival to Needy’s boyfriend while Needy is getting busy with said boyfriend. While having sex she has visions of a demonic Jennifer and the dead linebacker. She freaks out (some humor is found in her boyfriend reacting to her behavior by asking, with concern, “Did I do something wrong? Am I hurting you?” Then, with kind of a hopeful smile, asking, “Am I too big?”)
Needy drives home and narrowly avoids hitting a blood-soaked Jennifer, only to have Jennifer proceed to jump onto her windshield shortly after the near-miss. Needy shakes her loose from the car and drives off.
Once she’s home, Needy curls up in the fetal position on the couch for a while before getting up and heading to bed...and finding Jennifer lying next to her.
Jennifer assures Needy that she’s not going to bite her, and then she leans in and kisses her lightly. The lead-up to the kiss can be seen in the TV ads, and, as mentioned, a clip of the kiss itself can be found online.
Now, that kiss alone would have been okay. A little disappointing, but okay.
However, there’s more to it. After Jennifer pulls away, Needy pretty much jumps her, and there is a LOT more action.
Commentary from the jackass: “What, she think she her boyfriend?” Commentary from some random loud chick: “What! Oh my god! What! What! Oh my god! What!”
At that point I wanted to shout, “It’s two hot chicks making out! So shut the fuck up, that’s ‘what!’ This is a wonderful thing! Why are you trying to ruin this for me?”
Jennifer then proceeds to explain what happened to her on that fateful night. The band was failing to make it big and had decided that Satan was their only option, so they decided to sacrifice a virgin in exchange for fame and fortune.
Somehow, Jennifer managed to come back to life after being butchered, made her way to Needy, couldn’t bring herself to hurt her, despite her hunger, took off, found another male student who most people had believed was killed in the fire walking dazedly along, and ate him.
That’s when she learned that as long as she’s “full” she heals from any wound, looks amazing, and generally feels great.
Needy does some research into the paranormal and discovers that if a virgin sacrifice is offered to the Devil, and the sacrifice, like Jennifer, is not actually a virgin (as she said to Needy at the bar, Jennifer wasn’t “even a backdoor virgin anymore”), the deal goes through, but a demon will take possession of the sacrifice’s body.
Naturally a rift develops between Jennifer and Needy, which builds up to a scene in which Jennifer decides to eat Needy’s boyfriend (loud-talking chick, during the scenes in which Jennifer is seducing the boyfriend: “What! Oh my god! What! What!”), with Needy ultimately showing up too late to save him, and Jennifer fleeing the scene with a serious injury.
Next we find a now-healed Jennifer lying in bed watching a Tony Little infomercial, which is where the movie actually started (before moving on to the scenes of Needy locked up in the asylum).
The loud-talking jackass had found the Tony Little stuff hilarious the first time, and seemed to think it was even funnier the second time.
Jennifer turns off the TV and starts to fall which point Needy comes crashing in through her bedroom window brandishing a box cutter.
The two girls struggle, but while Jennifer is hovering in mid-air with Needy straddling her, Needy – who during the climactic scene with Jennifer eating her boyfriend had realized that Jennifer had never been a good friend, and that insecurity was at the heart of everything Jennifer had done in life – spots the “BFF” locket – a twin to the one Needy herself is wearing – on Jennifer and rips it free. This symbolic gesture seems to weaken Jennifer, who begins falling towards the bed. Needy plunges the box cutter into Jennifer’s heart. Jennifer says, “My tit.” Needy says, “No, your heart.”
(Needy had learned in her research that a blade through the heart would do the trick in killing the demon.)
As Jennifer dies, in walks her mother, (jackass commentary: “You goin’ to prison!”) and we find ourselves back at the beginning, where Needy is locked up in some sort of solitary confinement inside the asylum, having been put there for kicking an orderly in the teeth.
Thanks to her voiceover, we learn that if you’re bitten by a demon and manage to survive the encounter you actually gain some of the demon’s power, at which point we see the injuries from where Jennifer bit her, Needy’s eyes take on the same demonic aspect that Jennifer’s often did, and see that Needy is actually hovering in the air, well above the floor, at the level of what would otherwise be an unreachable window.
A window which Needy proceeds to kick out. Needy purposefully strides across the grounds, rips a hole in the chain-link fence surrounding the asylum, and walks on to freedom.
One plot point in the movie that I hadn’t mentioned is that the name of the town is Devil’s Kettle, named for a waterfall that flows directly into a whirlpool that leads down into a hole from which the water – and anything thrown into it – never appears to return to the surface. After killing Jennifer, the band had thrown the knife into the whirlpool. As Needy is walking along after escaping, she finds a small stream on side of the road littered with items that had been tossed down the whirlpool by scientists studying the Kettle.
And, more importantly, she finds the Bowie knife used in the ritual.
Needy hitches a ride from an old guy (whom I think was played by Lance Henrickesn) who asks her where she’s headed. Needy tells him she’s going to Madison. “I’m following a rock band,” she adds. “Must be some band if you’re going all that way to see them.”
“It’s their last show.”
We then see the band enjoying its demonically-attained success in a hotel room, and the lead singer answers a knock at the door that he assumes means the groupies have arrived.
Throughout the end credits we see grisly scenes of the murdered band members, and most notably the Bowie knife plunged into the heart of the lead singer, and then hotel security footage of Needy leaving the hotel, making her way past a gaggle of unsuspecting groupies who are on their way to the shock of their lives.
Wow, I didn’t expect to write that much about this movie, especially considering how unimpressed I was by it.
Still, I’m not done yet.
The movie was designed to be a comedy/horror, and there is a way to successfully combine the two seemingly disparate parts into a cohesive whole.
This wasn’t it.
The movie couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it wanted to be. Was it a horror movie that used the milieu of high school politics and teen angst as its setting and theme? Was it a comedy parodying the horrors of high school and the insecurities of the beautiful, popular people via a conceit that transforms figurative monsters (“Not high school evil”) into literal ones (“Actual evil”)?
An examination of the nature of uneven and often abusive relationships? A metaphorical journey in which a mousy girl is transformed through trials and tribulations into a powerful, self-assured woman?
Something else entirely?
It tried to be all of these things, but ultimately ended up being none of them, and really it was treading ground that was already covered – and covered more thoughtfully and skillfully – by Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Another parallel to Buffy lies with the dialogue. Great Muppety Odin – to use a Buffyism – the dialogue.
If you hated Juno because of the unlikely dialogue filled with “clever” turns of phrases and hipster portmanteaus, you will definitely hate Jennifer’s Body.
In having Jennifer use expressions like “salty” to describe cute boys, along with the literally hundreds of other bits of idiosyncratic slang that poured out of Jennifer’s mouth, it seemed as though Diablo Cody was hurling as much linguistic shit at the wall of popular culture as possible in the hopes that something would stick. I was reminded of that episode of NewsRadio in which Beth starts using weird bits of slang like “bitchcakes” as an experiment to see how long it would take for them to become part of the everyday lexicon.
The one thing that the movie got right, oddly enough, is something that worked against it. In real life, despite the unearthly hotness of the friend in whose shadow she stands, no girl as hot as Amanda Seyfried, glasses and frumpy clothes or not, would ever be ignored. Especially not in a small town. Not completely, anyway. And Needy did have a boyfriend, and other boys who were interested in her, so there was that bit of verisimilitude.
However, it was clear that the intention was for Needy to be the cliché of the hot girl whose hotness no one recognize given that she wore glasses and frumpy clothes, which is movie shorthand for “ugly.”
So yes, it was nice to see them avoid some of the clichés at times, but in the times when they fell back on the clichés it created something of a disconnect, especially when they gave up on symbolism, metaphor, and subtlety entirely by actually naming her fucking Needy.
Having her be a bit more of the stock character of the ugly, unpopular friend would have actually helped them to more adequately explore some of the themes the movie was attempting to present.
In any case, Megan Fox was very nice to look at, so the movie at least had that going for it, but I don’t think that counts for quite enough.
Still, on that note, I will close this already way too long entry with a quote from What Would Tyler Durden Do? discussing an article in which Megan Fox admits to being at least slightly crazy and inclined towards violence:

Megan Fox tells Rolling Stone this month that she’s prone to violent outburts,
used to cut herself and might be slightly crazy, a revelation that doesn’t
matter in any way whatsoever.
Whatever. Just look at her. Getting
sexily stabbed by Megan Fox every now and then in exchange for seeing her naked
all the time seems like a good deal. She could dip the knife in cobra venom,
lemon juice and syphilis, then jam it in my leg and wiggle it back and forth and
I’d still probably cum in my pants.

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