The Indy Film Club: Why it took a decade for Jennifer’s Body to find its audience

It breached topics of sexual assault and exploitation with a dark sense of humour and a reverence for the horror genre. Clarisse Loughrey explores why it took so long for us all to catch up

Friday 29 May 2020 14:08 BST
Megan Fox plays Jennifer Check, a high school cheerleader transformed into a boy-devouring succubus
Megan Fox plays Jennifer Check, a high school cheerleader transformed into a boy-devouring succubus

With Jennifer’s Body, writer-director team Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama spoke to teenage girls in their own language. Its tongue is sharp, its heart is fit to burst, and it weeps blood and terror – the two constants of womanhood. Two friends, cheerleader Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried), are turned against each other when the former becomes a man-devouring succubus. The film speaks honestly about sexuality, exploitation, and co-dependency, but still dwells unashamedly in the realm of horror-comedy, delivering Heathers-worthy lines like: “PMS isn’t real; it was invented by the boy-run media to make us look crazy.”

You’d never guess any of this from the 2009 film’s marketing strategy. In one of the posters, a mini-skirted Fox is perched on the edge of a school desk next to the slobbering declaration of “HELL YES!” She looked part-temptress, part-teacher’s pet – all straight male fantasy. Another marketing angle, thankfully shot down, would have seen Fox host an amateur porn site. When Cody and Kusama questioned the studio’s approach, the email they received simply said: “Jennifer sexy, she steal your boyfriend.” The language, at least, suited their idea of a target audience – like the individual who came to a test screening and gave the feedback “needs moar bewbs [sic]”.

The story behind Jennifer’s Body reads like a case file on socialised misogyny. It started on a high: Cody was fresh off the minor-sensation that was Juno, which won her an Oscar in 2008. It was her first screenplay, after years working in tandem as a journalist and a stripper. Fox, thanks to 2007’s Transformers, had been propelled into near-instant stardom. Jennifer’s Body was her first leading role. Both faced an inevitable backlash. Cody’s rhythmic approach to teen slang (a la “honest to blog”) was quickly labelled as a cold, calculated front. People grew resentful at the idea of a smart, opinionated woman speaking openly about her sex worker past.

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