Have you ever heard a mashup? It’s one song that was originally two songs from different genres that have been spliced together. Depending on the deejay, a mashup can sound pretty damn cool — the different aspects of the two kinds of songs complement and comment on each other, often to sensational effect. Unfortunately, such is not the case with Jennifer’s Body, the second film written by Diablo Cody. As directed by Karyn Kusama, Jennifer’s Body combines the lighthearted, high school joie de vivre of John Hughes with the clichéd schlock of a direct-to-DVD horror flick.
While Jennifer’s Body is not without its — ahem — good parts, the real problem in the film is not the maneater demon run amok in the small Midwest town, it’s the uneven handling of tone.
In one scene, you will feel as if you are watching another fine, funny film about modern high school teens from the rightly celebrated writer of Juno. Certainly the film is at its brightest when teens are simply, naturally talking to each other, in bedrooms or at school. Moreover, these kids are genuinely witty, charming, sensitive, and their relationships with each other believable. In particular, the scenes of nerdy protagonist Needy and her trusty boyfriend Chip are fantastically written and acted. At points, Cody can go “mad-crazy” overkill on the teen slang (Jennifer seems to speak her own Clueless-ly ridiculous dialect), but hey, like, whatevs.
The high school comedy stuff is only about half the movie, though (the good half). With the next scene you will find yourself suppressing a yawn as you watch stock horror movie moments you’ve seen a thousand times before. There’s the “There’s Someone at the Door But Wait There Isn’t… Or Is There?” Scare, the “Exorcist Projectile Vomit” Scare, the “Pulling the Grasping Victim Backward Along the Floor” Scare, the “Silhouetted Dismemberment Kill” Scare, and more. (Cody even throws in the “Kitchen Sink Drippy Faucet” Scare.) Considering Cody’s proven imagination and inventiveness, Jennifer’s horror-half just feels… well… like lazy writing. And do yourself a favor: Plug your ears when Jennifer’s in demonic action if moribund puns and unfunny one-liners make you want to Exorcist projectile vomit.
What you’ve heard about the horrors that a voiceover can render a film? That’s here, too. The film begins with Jennifer’s best friend Needy in prison, now a violent sociopath. Once locked in solitary, Needy goes on to narrate, “Just three months ago…” flashing us back to the proper narrative. What this prison framing device accomplishes is: You’ll wonder if you’re in the right theater. (Alan Ball and Sam Mendes didn’t excise their American Beauty prison prologue because the lighting wasn’t right: They did because it didn’t fit.) As for the voiceovers, the hardened Needy’s disillusioned, cynical analysis of her story disconnects the viewer from the present tense and prevents audience identification with the characters, immersion in their world. The dramatic irony that the happy, laughing, oblivious characters don’t know they’re in a horror plot surely suffices without having to heap on a voiceover, proclaiming, “We were fucking idiots.” Most unforgivably though, in the film’s first few minutes the prison prologue destroys what should be and must be the film’s entire narrative driving force: the suspense of whether Needy, our sympathetic heroine, will survive Jennifer’s massacre.
Hopefully, with Jennifer’s Body out of her system, Diablo Cody will now return to writing what she writes best: one film at a time. And leave the mashups to the deejays.