Jennifer's Body: Misunderstood Feminist Manifesto (Back to School Week)
Dir. Karyn Kusama (2009)
After a run-in with an indie band looking for fame and fortune, Jennifer starts to experience some changes. Her best friend Needy has to deal with the fallout.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Jennifer’s Body is one of the worst examples of how a studio marketing department can truly ruin a film because they’re more worried about selling it instead of depending on its artistic merit. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, it should have been viewed as a full-tilt ode to feminism and a rebuke of the patriarchy, and instead was largely dismissed as a blatant sexualization of star Megan Fox, a stigma that has pursued her career to this day. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a little to be desired from her performance in this film, which should’ve been her breakout role, but she deserves neither the criticism nor the consternation that she receives for playing the newborn succubus Jennifer in this film. Not only that, but by unfairly criticizing her sexuality and “hotness” in this role, critics are ignoring what is a brilliant social commentary on the patriarchy and on the role that women are forced to play in society.
For instance, they’re expected to be hot.
I won’t go a whole lot into plot in this review because I think that the meanings behind what happens on-screen are far more important than a contrived plot summary. Jennifer, while not the main character of the film, is an incredibly complex character. She is, at her core, a shitty friend and a selfish person. She’s also incredibly self-conscious, constantly seeking the approval of others despite trying her best to seem in control. She has nicknamed her friend “Needy,” (Amanda Seyfried) because she’s always so, well, needy. Time and again, however, we see that it is Jennifer who is needy: without the approval and dedication of her friend, she is lost. She wants what Needy has, not because she must take from her, but because she sees that Needy is truly happy and content with what life has afforded her. Jennifer is the sex symbol, the hot girl in school who can have any man she wants. Needy is the daughter of a working-class single mother, and her boyfriend seems kinda geeky and inexperienced. Yet despite Needy’s appearance as a “have-not” in the equation, Jennifer is intensely jealous of Needy’s life. When Jennifer succumbs to the power of her newfound succubus-ness, she seeks to steal men that Needy finds attractive, knowing that she has far better taste in men than the douchebags that Jennifer usually accompanies.
Needy is also an incredibly intriguing character. She is much geekier and less experienced than Jennifer, and she definitely lacks a lot of the confidence upon which Jennifer bases her personality. However, Jennifer’s Body is essentially a coming-of-age, growth story for Needy’s character. As Jennifer’s strength grows as a succubus, so does Needy’s. The conversation that she has with her mother (Amy Sedaris), about how one day she will need her and she won’t be there contrasted with Needy’s insistence that she can fend for herself, is directly paralleled within the story itself. Needy eventually must, indeed, stand up for herself, and she has to do it without her mother, her boyfriend, and, most importantly, against her best friend, who usually helps guide her through life. Jennifer views herself almost as Needy’s big sister, protecting her but also getting her out into the world, encouraging her to attain new experiences and to utilize her feminine powers. Powers that Jennifer herself insists that she has but unfortunately can’t manifest when she needs to because she’s not as powerful as she thinks. Even as a demonic entity, she comes across as a whiny child, someone who is used to getting what she wants simply because she looks good in a two piece.
Ultimately, this is the lesson behind Jennifer’s Body. Sure, women can utilize their feminine wiles to attain power over men, but it’s only because men give them that power, and it more often than not is used against them. But women are powerful in their own rights, not simply because they have boobs. While Jennifer is only able to use her body, being bereft of the type of strong character needed to use her other assets, Needy is a complete person, someone who doesn’t need to flaunt her breasts to get ahead and has full use of her mind. Despite outward appearances of strength, it is Jennifer who is indeed weak.
Current picture notwithstanding.
Jennifer’s Body is almost a feminist masterpiece, a treatise on the pratfalls of playing into what is expected of women. Women can be strong, but only if they can triumph over those patriarchal expectations. The irony of the film is that, in the entertainment world, this message is so lost that the film could not even be seen as something more than a way to showcase Megan Fox’s breasts. While this contrast makes the film’s message all the more evident, it also shows that, in the real world, none of it matters if women aren’t able to break through the sexist standards in the industry. It’s sad, to be honest, because this film deserves to be viewed in the way in which it was intended. Thankfully, it’s rise as a cult classic means that viewers today can learn the lesson that the producers clearly were not able to comprehend.
Who this movie is for: Feminist horror fans; Supernatural possession lovers; The matriarchy
Bottom line: Jennifer’s Body is severely underrated, but it is deeply loved in the pockets that saw it for what it was. It is a brilliant critique on both the patriarchy itself as well as the attitudes of women that indulge that point of view and lessen themselves. While Megan Fox’s performance isn’t perfect, it’s more than adequate to deliver the message that Kusama and Cody intended. Seyfried, however, is outstanding as always. The film is gory, the effects are great, and the story is incredibly compelling, and the film is finally getting the attention it rightly deserves in the cult classic arena.