finishing school: on jennifer's body.
Even today, if you type "Jennifer's Body" into the Google search bar, "kiss" is still the next word that automatically pops up.
The first time I saw Jennifer’s Body was at a friend’s house in 2009, following the movie’s DVD release. I hadn’t seen it in theaters due to my skepticism given the kind of buzz that the movie generated, i.e. buzz solely around the make-out between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. I fully expected to hate it.
I loved it.
The movie has been on my mind recently for two reasons. First, the release of director Karyn Kusama’s latest film, The Invitation. Like Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation strikes me as a movie that’s being marketed as a horror flick while, in reality, the horror takes a back seat to something else entirely. Yes, both movies are reasonably scary, and both conclude in bloodbaths, but at its heart, The Invitation is about grief, and Jennifer’s Body is about female friendship.
I once had a conversation with one of my high school friends, a guy, about the difference between male and female friendships. What he had to say boiled down to pretty much the same stereotypes that you’d expect, i.e. that male friendships are uncomplicated, either you’re friends or you’re not, while female friendships are incomprehensible. Jennifer’s Body has three layers to parse through on that front.
The movie revolves around the friendship between the titular Jennifer (Megan Fox) and her best friend since childhood, Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried). The movie immediately establishes how close they are (“sandbox love never dies”) and things unravel from there. Jennifer is killed in a satanic ritual gone wrong, and comes back as a demon with a hankering for human flesh. Following a string of other murders, Jennifer attempts to seduce and then kills Needy’s boyfriend, Needy kills Jennifer, and after being thrown into and then breaking out of prison, kills the members of the band who’d sacrificed Jennifer in the first place.
Layer 1: The revenge story. Girl betrays girl, girl kills girl.
Layer 2: The revenge story, part two. Girl kills men who killed her friend. (Needy’s murder of the band Low Shoulder could be taken as a personal act of vengeance, but it’s always read to me as retribution for what they did to Jennifer.)
Layer 3: The love story. Girl loves girl. I don’t mean this in the Google search way. I mean it in the sandbox love never dies way. Maybe they’re not best friends anymore by the end of the movie, but it’s not a relationship that’s so easy to define as there and then gone, even if Jennifer does murder Needy’s boyfriend. The core of Jennifer’s Body is their friendship, the compromises and sacrifices that are implicit within it, and knowing, even when it’s your best friend, when to draw the line.
The second reason I’ve been thinking of Jennifer’s Body is, somewhat less intuitively, the release of John Carney’s Sing Street. It’s something special when a movie really knows how to harness music, and the soundtrack to Jennifer’s Body is stuffed with the kind of pop tracks that you’d remember as cool in high school but be embarrassed to bring out at a party now. (Dashboard Confessional, anyone?) There’s no shame in the way they’re deployed, here. Like the songs Connor writes for his band in Sing Street, even Low Shoulder’s songs are the perfect fake mix of pop and teenage angst and earnestness.
From White Lies to Hayley Williams, the songs are also perfect for the small-town ethos of the movie's setting — they’re songs to blast in your car while driving around in the middle of nowhere, and songs that immediately evoke that kind of spirit even when you’re not that age anymore.
That ability to capture a specific part of growing up plays a large part in why I love Jennifer’s Body so much. Being a teenager sucks, sometimes, but there are also periods of Panic! At The Disco-scored invincibility, foolish as they may be, and unconditional love in friendships that gets harder to replicate the older one gets. Hell may be a teenage girl, but there’s something much less supernatural and much more grounded to be found (and treasured) in Jennifer's Body.