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Like if Jenny Holzer wrote film reviews. The Parallax Review is a website dedicated to dissecting movies in terms of cultural context, ideology, aesthetics, and more. From Stalker to Hackers and beyond! Run by your girl, @okaythanksmaria

Jennifer's Body (2009)

 


 This review is part of a series: 31 Days of Horror Directed by Women.

 

Jennifer's Body totally fucks.

I've been barely surviving on a steady drip of lethargy and episodes of Pose. I haven't left my house in days. I can't imagine writing all I want to write about this film in the 20 minutes I've allotted myself to write these daily* film reviews. Here I am, though, and I'm going to give you something not quite polished but full of fire. Actually, that's a perfect description for the film itself: a bit rough around the edges but filled to the brim with passionate energy. It's a kick in the dick, for sure!

Jennifer's Body came out the year I graduated high school. I remember being disappointed when I first saw it back then; it didn't make any sense to me. Seeing it more than ten years later, though...well, it's a completely new experience. It's hard to forget Megan Fox plays the titular Jennifer, but Amanda Seyfried popping up as her co-star was a pleasant surprise. Today, both actors feel like remnants from the mid-to-late aughts. Their faces, the music, the clothes, Adam Brody, and the cringe-y, un-woke jokes were all quite jarring and gave me a strange feeling like whiplash. How could everything about it feel so familiar, yet so foreign at the same time? Maybe 2020 is just so crazy wait, I just realized this is also directed by Karyn Kusama. LOL. Weird watching The Invitation, then watching this right after...ANYWAY this movie feels very 2009 in every way but one. Weirdly, Jennifer's Body feels like it's set even further back in time. Like 30 years ago. You know where I'm going with this, right?
 



 
Not to be one of those people that makes too-frequent comparisons to the Twin Peaks-verse but the world of Jennifer's Body feels like it exists in a Myspace-ified Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me timeline. The crummy yet popular dive bar filled with teens; the spooky waterfall; the perpetual Fall of it all; the hot bad girl with a cute, kinda odd best friend; the cloud of pure evil hovering over a nothing town. This reference feels right, though. It's like a shorthand Kusama uses to quickly get us ready for all the weird shit that's about to go down. Beyond the setting, though, this movie really owes its brilliance to Diablo Cody's excellent script and the perfect storm of 2009's pre-woke, post-Facebook energy. I mean, I had several Dane Cook albums in my iTunes library in 2009. Dane. Cook.

Enough about that! Let's talk about Megan Fox being perfectly cast as Jennifer. The film indicates very early on in the narrative that both Megan and Jennifer know and play their part beyond brilliantly. Jennifer exercises a great amount of personal agency by acting out and playing into assumptions people make about women. Especially women that look like Megan Fox. [Uh oh, my 20 minutes are practically up!] There's a line Jennifer says, about pointing your boobs the direction in which you want to make shit happen. It's a dumb way of saying something smart. It's like...it's like you're a woman, right? And everyone has these specific ideas about what women should be doing based on a variety of factors. And if you're aware of those assumptions you can...well, you can use them to get what you want. Megan, I mean Jennifer, looks like a hot girl. And everyone knows hot girls are stupid and easily manipulated. So, when she sets her sights on Nikolai (Adam Brody), she reads his face to see what he wants her to be: a hot, dumb virgin. She then embodies that so that she can get what she wants. Which is...him, unfortunately. 
 




[Fuck it, I'm gonna have to spend more than 20 minutes on this god damn review. I'm like 3 or 4 days behind on my daily reviews. What a piece of shi]

You see, it's unfortunate she likes Nikolai because Nikolai is the lead singer of this really shitty emo band (okay, yeah, I hate all emo music, so what?) called Low Shoulder. He wears eyeliner and skinny black ties and, well, he looks like Adam Brody. The band may or may not have decided to sacrifice a virgin to Satan in order to become famous, "like the lead singer of Maroon 5." They've decided Jennifer is going to be this sacrifice. When the dive bar they're playing totally goes up in flames during the first 2 seconds of their set, they quickly flee the scenebut not before convincing Jennifer to go with them God knows where in their gross tour van. When she says yes, Jennifer seems to be in a daze, and I was honestly confused why she wanted to be alone with these obviously shady dudes. But then I thought of Laura Palmer, and remembered this weird thing about being a woman.

It's like...it's like you're a woman, right? And you exist as a woman in the world, right? So you have this weird cognitive dissonance where you'd like to be doing whatever the hell you want, but men exist and we live in their world (the patriarchy). And there are also these weird, fucked up rules about what you should and should not do. And men get to fuck with you and tell you what to do, regardless of whether or not you follow the rules. And if something bad happens because men exist, often, you, the woman, get all of the blame. Like, all of it. It's all your fucking fault, bitch! For like, existing as a woman in a man's world. Even if you followed the weird, nonsensical rules. So it's like...sometimes you just do the thing you want to do, because fuck the rules and fuck the fact that you could literally be doing anything and someone (a man) could decide to fuck with you and it would just like...be your fault. I mean, who can live like this? It's insane.
 



 
When Jennifer gets into the van with those guys from the band Low Shoulder, her best friend Anita (Seyfried) tells her it's a bad idea. But Jennifer does it anyway. Not because she's stupid. No. Fuck that! It's because she wants to go with the guys. She knows the risk involved but she wants to fucking live. She wants to be free to take a risk and maybe get hurt or maybe have the night of her life! If you're going to be punished for being a woman whether you take a risk doing what you want or whether you stay home and do what's expected, well...you might as well do whatever you want. So we're going to call the part where Megan, I mean Jennifer, gets into the van with Adam Brody and his bandmates Part One of this movie's thesis. Part one is called "Fuck It, I Do What I Want."

I'm not gonna make you wait long to hear Part Two. The second part of the movie's thesis statement comes just minutes after the door to the tour van closes and Anita looks on in horror as it drives away. She calls her boyfriend in a panic, partially because a bunch of people have just burned to death in the dive bar fire, and partially because her best friend just disappeared in a van with a bunch of obvious scumbag men. [Just now thought of how Valerie Solanis wrote a book about hating men called The Scumbag Manifesto. Anyway.] We shift back to Jennifer, who is sitting in this van with like 4 or 5 guys who just stare at her. She asks a question I can't remember, and whatever it is, Adam Brody thinks it's pretty stupid. Instead of answering her, he says simply, "God, I hate girls." He says this almost under his breath, and if you're not paying attention you might miss it. But this is it. This is Part Two of this movie's thesis. Part two is called "We Hate Women."
 


 

Jennifer's Body is a difficult to grasp yet totally effective piece of feminist entertainment because it's thesis proffers two opposing ideas. In fact, it's the two opposing ideas that all people who identify as women are forced to hold in their heads at one time. It is the reason women can righteously rage against men like Harvey Weinstein and joyously shake their asses to music with wild, misogynist lyrics. It is the reason Laura Palmer actively seeks out increasingly sketchy locales with grimy men (okay OKAY she also does that because she's suffered terrible abuse, but JESUS, that sort of proves my point also!) We simply must do what we want, even though wesocietyhate women. We must! If we don't we are not alive girls. Live Girls. So to live, we must be both hated (by men and by ourselves, as we are taught) AND we must do whatever we want, regardless. The world can be a violent, terrifying place to be an alive woman. So by choosing to get in the van, Jennifer is living. And she is punished for it.

The film presents both parts of it's thesis in the first 30 minutes. Once you recognize the groundwork Diablo Cody has laid in this first half hour, what happens during the film's remaining 70 minutes become incredibly cathartic. And kinda badass, to be honest. As much as I'd like to spend several more paragraphs gassing it up, though, the movie's not perfect. I connect viscerally with Kusama's and Cody's thematic headspace, but the film's brand of feminism isn't even pretending to be intersectional. It also doesn't seem to fully work as a horror movie. I think I'd have to watch it a few more times to figure out what about it doesn't fully work in terms of pure, bloody entertainment. But it's narrative doesn't seem to have as much kick as the film's bold, feminist themes. Regardless, I seriously, seriously love that Jennifer's Body exists, and I think a big reason it flopped when it released is simply because we weren't ready for it. We weren't ready for the truth. And the truth is: Jennifer's Body is smart and funny and stupid and offensive and sexy and horny and violent and angry and unabashedly pro-woman.
 


 

There is sooooooooo much more I wrote about this film in my notes. Things about how the demon inside of Jennifer represents the overwhelming presence of the male gaze/misogyny/patriarchy. How we can't escape it and it simultaneously eats at us and gives us such a specific, incredible power. Things about how we demonize Megan Fox for being beautiful and doing what she wants and shame her for embodying what we expect her to (the sex symbol). But I have to stop writing. I have to go to sleep now because I took too long to write this and I'm still 3 reviews behind schedule. Just one more thought and then I'm leaving. The bloody, bitter ending is scored by the song that inspired the movie's title: Hole's "Jennifer's Body." There's something sort of perfect about Courtney Love's raspy, raging vocals ripping us back into reality. I mean, talk about an alive girl. Her entire life seems to say fuck you, I do what I want because I know you hate women. I have this thought as the credits roll and suddenly I'm thrown back into the real world, facing that familiar demon again.

*daily-ish
 
All film stills via Film-Grab

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