Maggie McMuffin makes a public apology to Megan Fox but still has some concerns over Diablo Cody’s take on feminist horror in her re-view of Jennifer’s Body.
I would like to issue a public apology to Megan Fox.
Despite being one of the first openly bisexual women I encountered in media (we even shared a mutual crush on Olivia Wilde) and despite being in movies I largely did not see, I joined the masses in villainizing her for not living up to unreasonable expectations of what a woman in Hollywood should be. I have since learned that if a woman wants to make money off being hot she should be allowed to, and we should all praise her for doing it at such a high level as Ms. Fox did in the late 2000s.
(Side note: Oh my god I have never before had a re-view make me realize how much time has passed. This movie has so much emo cred.)
I can only assume that it was Fox’s involvement in Jennifer’s Body that led me to skip it. It was Diablo Cody’s follow-up to Juno (which I loved) and involved horror (which I loved). It also involved misandry (which I did not yet love but would someday) and a leading lady that men had told me it was cool to dislike. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that my friend Brooke convinced me to watch it with her and I realized my mistake. Or at least the surface of my mistake.
In the ensuing decade, many people have apologized to Megan Fox and also turned Jennifer’s Body into a quotable feminist movie. It doesn’t quite have cult status, but you see the gifs and you see it mentioned in feminist literature such as Sady Doyle’s recent Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers (highly recommended).
But is Jennifer’s Body really a feminist masterpiece, or is it simply another film that added to the villainization of Megan Fox?
Honestly, after a re-view, I’m not sure it isn’t both.
Jennifer’s Body follows a really simple plot (something I appreciate in both horror and comedy films): Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is the glasses-wearing shy girl who has been best friends with hot bitch Jennifer since they were kids. One night, Jennifer pressures Needy into going to see some band “from the city” at a bar. Bar burns down, band kidnaps Jennifer and attempts to sacrifice her to Satan for fame and riches, and she comes back a monster that Needy becomes increasingly less trustful of. Her boyfriend, Chip, thinks she’s crazy. He and other boys who succumb to Jennifer’s charms wind up dead. Needy, the still cute but not aggressively feminine foil, eventually kills Jennifer and gets locked up in a mental institution.
On the surface HELL YEAH THIS MOVIE IS GREAT. But like feminism itself, the exact politics of it are a bit messy and less streamlined than the plot. Jennifer is a femme misandry icon for sure, burning her tongue with a lighter and then casually proclaiming, “I am a god.” She says that PMS “was invented by the boy run media to make us seem crazy” when accused of exhibiting signs. She isn’t afraid of men before her transformation because “we have all the power.”
Jennifer is also a raging bitch who likes to “tell it like it is,” asks Needy’s boyfriend to “say I’m better [than her]” as she seduces him, and disregards her friends wishes at every turn. As a 29-year-old though, I see that as “high school evil.” It’s behavior that Jennifer could have grown out of had she gotten to grow up and leave her small town. We see her being a teenager, hardly able to flirt with the band and laughing awkwardly at anything they say. We see her crying in their van later, begging them to let her go. We see her afraid and powerless. Jennifer and her demonic possession are painted as being just as villainous as the older men who murder her while cheerfully singing “867-5309.”
And speaking of older men, we learn during the first act that Jennifer is sleeping with a police cadet “on the regular” and that they even had very painful anal sex. This dope (played by Chris Pratt) shows up for this scene and is never seen again. Why does Jennifer, demonic, bloodthirsty Jennifer, never go after him for a midnight snack? Not only is it feasible that he’s an adult man fucking a high school student, but he’s an asshole and a wannabe cop. Hello toxic masculinity! Why are we killing sweet emo boys when this dude is walking around?
On the other hand, we have Needy, a classic “I wear glasses and my hair is frizzy” Hollywood nerd. She’s girly but not seductive. Funny but not harsh. As the movie goes on and she gets more heroic, she gets more feminine. In the bookends of her post-story narration, Needy has smoother hair and no glasses. In her final fights with Jennifer, she also has no glasses on. Needy proudly tells the Satan-worshipping band that Jennifer is a virgin to defend her friend (ironically, this is what gets Jennifer chosen by them), but once she’s turned on her, she says, “she hasn’t been a virgin since junior high,” falling back on easy slut-shaming to express her distaste for the other girl. Needy is sexually empowered but in an acceptable way; she’s awkward and shy about losing her virginity and makes her boyfriend wait a respectable amount of time. She holds back on kissing Jennifer but gets REALLY into it (we’ll get to that) and it’s around this time that she really commits to the idea that Jennifer must die.
In the end, it’s not Jennifer who seeks revenge on the band who turned her into a demon, but Needy. Needy, who was bitten by the demon and survived, gets to break out of jail and go on a murder spree. At this point, after calling her friend a “dumb bitch” and stabbing her with a box cutter, you have to wonder if Needy was even doing it for Jennifer or if she was just mad at how much her life was upended by their actions. It wouldn’t be the first time someone took their friend’s assault and made it about them.
What makes this all the more disappointing is that the sapphic tension between Needy and Jennifer is so real. They’ve been friends since they were kids (we even get treated to sandbox flashbacks), Chip yells “stop kidnapping my girlfriend” at Jennifer, she has a freaking PARTY NAIL. Most telling, Jennifer specifically targets boys that Needy is interested in/involved with. Many queer women will tell you that sleeping with a dude who slept with a woman you liked is a good way to deny you have a crush on her, and Jennifer seems to be riding that wave even harder once she has the power to just get rid of those boys entirely.
But it’s her ultimate seduction of Needy that nails it. After explaining how she became a demon and how she’s “basically unkillable,” Jennifer suggest they play slumber party games like they used to. I have to say that the shot of just their mouths, Jennifer leaning into Needy, and Needy’s tongue darting out and retreating from it, is some of the best acting I’ve seen in a horror film. I was expecting a male gaze moment but, instead, it’s a few moments that sets up the rest of the story. After some intense making out, Needy throws Jennifer out, choosing heterosexuality over demonic queerness.
And because of this we, the audience, are cheated out of a movie that could have been about demonic girlfriends hunting down abusive men and feeding on them. Instead we get another forty minutes of women fighting each other. Needy never even tries to reverse Jennifer’s possession: She fears her, makes out with her, and then decides she has to die.
But it goes further than that, because Needy does something to Jennifer by accident: she makes her into a perfect victim. By murdering her instead of outing her as a demon, Jennifer can be mourned as a poor girl who was cut down ahead of her time by some jealous frenemy. There are no messy accusations of why Jennifer got into a van with four strange men or why she was wearing tight jeans or why she was getting shots. There’s just her mother (honestly, I spent the whole movie wondering if Jennifer even had parents) walking in on her daughter getting stabbed. Men assaulting women? We better get all the sides to this story. Women fighting each other? In high school? Well that’s just what happens!
All this may make it sound like I don’t recommend the movie; that’s not true. I really enjoyed it. It’s funny, it has bad jokes, there’s this interesting thread of people moving on from 9/11 in different ways, Needy and Chip swap the traditional gender roles of horror, that make-out scene is legit hot and I’ll bet there’s closeted teen girls out there watching it gleefully.
It also unfortunately is Diablo Cody’s second screenplay and has a lot of her flaws re: the messy feminism and her constant need to make comments about Asian women? There’s only one in this movie but I need to go watch Young Adult to see if she’s cut that out yet.
But if you are, at any age, in need of something to watch during a slumber party with friends, the only reason I’d say not to go with Jennifer’s Body is because you have to pay 3.99 to rent it.
Ah hell. Just pirate the damn thing.
— Maggie McMuffin