Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
October 2009

The vamp next door

How did 'Megan Fox playing a high-school vampire' turn out so dull?

Jennifer's Body
20th Century Fox
Director: Karyn Kusama
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, Kyle Gallner, Amy Sedaris and J.K. Simmons
Rated R / 1 hour, 42 minutes
Opened September 18, 2009
(out of four)

From a marketing standpoint, I'm not sure if this was perfect timing or the worst timing for a movie like Jennifer's Body to hit theatres. After all, vampires are hot. Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama are just striking that iron, no?

After years of underachieving, bloodsuckers have unleashed themselves on the public. They have their own hit HBO series, their own world-renowned European art film, their own permanent enclave in the hearts of teenage girls everywhere (thanks, Stephenie Meyer!), their own venture into the mind of master stylist Chan-wook Park - and yet another popular book series by Darren Shan that hits theatres in October.

Really, things couldn't get any better for vampires these days. So why has Jennifer's Body failed to make any kind of dent in mass culture? Are people just vampired out?

My guess is it has more to do with the fact that Megan Fox isn't nearly the star she's been made out to be. Would Transformers have made any less money with another sexy stock brunette? Jennifer's Body is the first official Megan Fox Vehicle, and the masses are uninterested.

Guys aren't even jumping at the chance to see Fox's make-out scene with Amanda Seyfried - and it's hard to blame them, when they know they can find that 45-second clip on a million websites by the time the movie opens, and without the baggage of that extra 101 minutes.

As for those other 101 minutes, the most curious thing about Jennifer's Body is how lifeless it is. Here we have a bloody movie about a sexy vampire, and it just sits on the screen looking for its own pulse.

Cody, whose fingernails-on-the-chalkboard cutesy dialogue in Juno charmed Oscar voters a couple years back, returns with another screenplay rife with forced slang-heavy dialogue that sounds as self-satisfied as it does unnatural. For your consideration: "You're just Jell-O. You're lime-green Jell-O and you can't even admit it." Or: "I will finish you if I have to." / "OK, you can't even finish gym class." (What does that even mean?)

In this case, it's not just that the dialogue is tacky - it's that it is the only attempt, by either writer or director, to really enliven the material. I guess that says something for Cody - at least she's trying - but it doesn't speak well of her ability to translate her basic ideas into something more.

It seems like I've been writing this a lot lately, but this is a movie that doesn't seem to know how to get its own satirical or comedic or clever ideas across. Doing good comedy is at least as hard to accomplish as good drama - many would argue more so. And dark comedy is among the hardest tasks of all. Jennifer's Body is a dark comedy, and it knows it's a dark comedy, and it just cannot pull it off.

Like last year's thematically similar Teeth, this movie brushes up against a full slate of possibilities, and somehow misses almost all of them. Consider one of Jennifer's first victims after being transformed into a vampire - a high-school goth kid with a crush on the girl who happens to be a vamp. A perfect opportunity to turn the whole goth thing on its ear, right?

Right. Only the film completely misses it. Jennifer briefly mentions it in one line, and that's it. On to the bloodshed. The glaring absence of any irony or wit - not just in this scene, but in countless others - makes the film seem like a neverending cycle of missed opportunities.

Seyfried, playing Jennifer's subtly named best friend Needy, is the only performer who transcends the material, but even she is hampered by the lightweight screenplay and bland direction. As for Fox, I don't feel the need to pile on to the growing criticism of her acting skills. Is she any good in Jennifer's Body? Well, if the role calls for her to make us want her, then she does the job. But no, I wouldn't call this much of an acting performance.

To be fair, neither filmmaking this mediocre nor two starring roles in films directed by Michael Bay are likely do any favors for the acting skills of an attractive, 22-year-old starlet. If anything, it only provokes backlash. So let's say the jury's still out on Fox.

That being said, even her considerable looks can do little to save Jennifer's Body from inevitable scorn. But like so many bad movies before it, this one seems bound to find a second life on late-night cable.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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