"Hell is a teenage girl."
So begins the narration of Jennifer's Body, a clever little horror comedy that exploits a classic "mean girls" high school scenario through a body invasion story that at its best echoes the late '70s and '80s films (Carrie, Shivers, Heathers) that scribe Diablo Cody holds obvious affection for.
Cody, fresh off an Oscar win for her Juno screenplay, uses her newfound credibility to make a movie that is much more interested in dissecting teenage sexuality than in provoking the usual jump scares typical of contemporary screamers. Audiences may have trouble with this; though the promotional material features global lust-love-of-the-moment Megan Fox in various states of undress and the basic concept of the movie promises all sorts of grotesqueries, Body features little nudity and rarely lingers on the gory money shots.
Whether this is due to the fact that the film is written and directed by women (in addition Cody's screenplay, the film is helmed by Girlfight director Karyn Kusama) is arguable, but it's undeniable that the makers of Jennifer's Body have more on their minds than sex and violence. This will no doubt hurt its box office performance (word of mouth among disappointed high school boys will likely result in a steep second weekend drop), but if there was ever a candidate for a posthumous cult classic, this is it.
The previously referenced opening narration is that of Needy (Amanda Seyfried), a former geek of Devil's Kettle High who is first seen attacking orderlies in a mental institution. The "How" of Needy arriving there is the film's main thrust, and she helpfully walks us through the previous months of high school with the kind of hip, slang-heavy girl-speak Cody has become famous for.
Needy's best friend is head cheerleader Jennifer (Fox), a self-involved sexpot who drags Needy along in a friendship that's more than a little one-sided. The film's first act finds Jennifer and Needy at a concert featuring an under-the-radar indie rock band called Low Shoulder. Jennifer wants to hook up with the "salty" lead singer (Adam Brody, shedding his polite Jew-geek image once and for all), and though Needy has reservations about the seedy club ("That place is dirty and everyone has a mustache!" objects Needy's boyfriend), she agrees to attend.
It turns out the band has less-than-pure motives for playing the show, and soon the club is burning to the ground and Jennifer is lured into the band's van and driven into the woods. In a play for fame and success, the band aims to make a deal with the devil by sacrificing a virgin, and they've chosen Jennifer. Needless to say, Jennifer is no virgin ("not even a back-door virgin"), and soon the queen bitch is back on her feet, possessed by a hungry demon whose diet requires a constant intake of male flesh.
It's here that the film's subtext takes over and the metaphor "man eater" becomes quite literal as Jennifer seduces and chows down on a series of doomed horndogs. When the succubus goes too long without a meal, her hair loses its shine, her skin breaks out and she becomes, to her dismay, "like normal girls."
The Madonna-whore dichotomy between Needy and Jennifer is sometimes a bit hammer-over-the-head--a conceptually interesting but all-too-obvious sequence features Needy and her boyfriend awkwardly having sex for the first time cross-cut with Jennifer brazenly seducing and killing a lustlorn goth geek. But Cody should get props for avoiding the black/white packaging of sexual politics typical of most horror movies (Needy is not judged or punished by the filmmakers for losing her virginity, and teenage sexuality in general is treated by the film with a rare matter-of-fact frankness and respect).
So, too, should Kusama and Cody be applauded for the casting of Fox. The actress has been deemed by the media as the sexiest woman on the planet, is known for her foul mouth and has commented in interviews that she has the libido of a 15-year-old boy, and it's tempting to see art-as-life satire in the way Body seems to exploit and comment on the actress's image so fully. The fact that Kusama refrains from revealing the erogenous portions of Jennifer's body after such a skin-drenched marketing campaign is a hilarious tease/punishment that may be inadvertent but makes the element of satire all the more relevant. It may sound like stunt-casting, but Fox delivers a performance that, while not earth-shattering, shows that the actress may actually be more than a Michael Bay femme-bot.
It should be noted that the film's climax fails to live up to the promise of what came before. Cody and Kusama seem to find themselves at a loss for how to wrap everything up, and the final confrontation between Needy and Jennifer feels obligatory and viscerally inert. This would be enough to sink most movies, but there's so much to enjoy in Jennifer's Body that a failed ending manages to be a minor quibble rather than a fatal flaw.
Everything about The Informant! is just a little bit off-kilter. From the exclamatory title to an overweight, mustachioed Matt Damon frantically peppering the film with manic narrated non-sequiturs to the muddy, yellow-hued digital photography, the film seems hellbent on defying expectation and re-energizing the ailing whistleblower genre.
It's far weirder than its laugh-heavy trailer would imply, and director Steven Soderbergh only adds to the wackiness with little tweaks like vintage title cards and a jazzy, old-Hollywood score that feels straight out of a Billy Wilder film.
Rest assured, it's all for a purpose. The true story that it's based on is so outlandish and strange that the only way to do it justice is to do exactly what Soderbergh has done: make a movie as outlandish, strange and contradictory as the subject itself.
Mark Whitacre (Damon) is a cipher of a man, a corporate-culture anachronism whose schlubbish, excitable office-drone exterior hides layers of psychological complexity.
He's possibly very damaged. An orphan who was lucky enough to be adopted by a wealthy amusement park owner, Whitacre was sent to the best schools where his near genius-level intelligence was allowed to fully develop and flourish, resulting in a biochemistry degree and a well-paying job at Archer Daniels Midland.
As the film opens, Whitacre is shown to be a loving father and husband, one of those rare, truly decent human beings who always tells the truth and believes in doing the right thing no matter what.
It's with this integrity that Whitacre goes to the FBI to reveal a price-fixing scheme at ADM. When the authorities question his motivation for tattling, he responds earnestly with, "Things are going on that I don't approve of."
He's given a wire and told to gather as much info as possible. It's here that Whitacre is revealed to be a bit of an idiot; he dives into the spy game as if he were a secret agent, even dubbing himself 0014 because he's "twice as smart as James Bond." Witless behavior such as narrating his wire ("I am now approaching the entrance...Entrance breached...") is countered by intuitive improvisation when under pressure. This contradictory nature is alarming in that it reveals a man who is uncommonly intelligent but terminally maladjusted.
Just what exactly it is that is going through Whitacre's head is the subject of the film's surreal last act; no spoilers here, but suffice it to say that reality is just a little bit more complicated than it would first appear.
Soderbergh once again shows himself to be a chameleon and a seasoned comedy director, expertly balancing the genre-bending material to set a unique tone that is firmly planted on the line between slapstick comedy, human drama and muckraking thriller. It's funny and enthralling enough to please audiences looking for popcorn entertainment, but Soderbergh's experimentalism and Damon's show-stopping performance (like the film, the actor navigates the lines of separation between the comedic and deeply emotional, coupled with a stunning physical transformation) make for a movie that should be remembered in the future as a career high point for all involved.
Opening at the Circle on Friday is Lorna's Silence, an exceptional Belgian film that chronicles a desperate woman willing to do almost anything to ensure a happy life with the man she loves. The film is not so cliché as the description might seem; tonally and thematically, it's reminiscent of 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, with an existential naturalism applied to the characters and plot that results in a film that is documentary-like in its realism.
Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is an Albanian emigrant living in Belgium who has paid Claudy (Jeremie Renier), a junkie, to marry her so that she can obtain Belgian citizenship. Her ultimate goal is to settle down with her boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj) and open a small restaurant.
The simple plot unfolds like a thriller; Lorna is forced to jump through elaborate hoops involving shady Russians, wannabe mafiosos, and drug dealers in order to secure a future for herself. To expedite the process of eventual divorce, it is understood by everyone involved that Claudy must be killed by way of forced drug overdose. The problem is that the junkie wants to clean up, and begs Lorna to help him do so. Lorna's dilemma in this situation is not the central focus of the film, but a stepping stone in a much larger moral quandary.
The film could be read as a critique of current immigration policies in Europe, but is hardly preachy or political. Rather, it's a slice-of-life portrait that makes its point through the natural progression of the characters. It's not always pleasant to watch, but for connoisseurs of European art cinema, Lorna's Silence is essential viewing.
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