Ten years ago Jennifer’s Body was released in the U.S. starring Megan Fox, a follow-up to her blockbuster action Transformers. As I was barely in my tweens when it was released, obviously I didn’t watch it then.
Though it was a commercial flop, I learned last year that Jennifer’s Body had since become a cult classic. That’s understandable as it is one of the films that gets better as time passes, especially as society becomes more critical of misogynistic reviews, which was mainly the cause of the film’s bad reviews. Reviewers then panned the movie as another trite high school horror flick. It failed to meet they expectation that it would be smart and sexy. I disagree with this view.
First, it’s important to how Karyn Kusama (the director) and Diablo Cody (the writer) tell the story through the use of sarcasm and tropes. There are hidden meanings that is apparent if you think just a little, but if seen through the male gaze, you will definitely fail to see it. Indeed, Jennifer’s Body is both smart and sexy to me.
While depicting conventional stereotypes of women, the film at the same time makes the best us to carry the plot forward. Jennifer who is played by Fox is a typical popular high school girl – pretty, skinny, and a cheerleader. Her best friend Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried, is a nerdy student who’s overshadowed by her Jennifer’s diva persona. If you ignore the cliché presumption about this film from the get-go, you might see more from it. There are jealousy, trauma, vulnerability, and passive-aggressive issues that female and teen friendship in real life deal with.
Instead of creating Jennifer as the attention seeker and mean girl expected to kill Needy as the point of story, she was made into a victim of petty men’s insecurity and obsession. Your reaction to the scene at a pub where Jennifer makes a move on a vocalist of Indie rock band before hopping into their van depends on what gaze you use.
If you use male gaze – as most of us are conditioned to – you’d likely blame Jennifer for losing self-control. You might even call her a slut. But if you use female gaze, Jennifer is just a normal teenage girl who wants affection and who happens to get caught with a group of men who had been targeting her for a virgin ritual even before they knew her name. Her action cannot be separated from her life experience as a girl being constantly exposed to the idea that one’s self-worth is determined by her physical appearance. This film was definitely ahead of its time.
Jennifer’s evolution into a revenge demon by luring men with her sexual appeal is beyond smart and sexy. Sex appeal – which was usually perceived as a woman’s weakness to justify crime against them – turns into her weapon. Jennifer would kiss a guy, take off his clothes, rip his intestines out and eat them. She leaved them dead like lasagna with teeth. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t satisfy men’s projection of Fox, as she doesn’t get naked and doesn’t murder guys sexily.
But we cannot blame the male audiences’ for their misunderstanding of Jennifer’s Body. Rather the 20th Century Fox’s marketing campaign is the first to blame. Cody and Kusama told IndieWire in an interview last year, the marketing campaign capitalized on Fox’s sex appeal to reach out to young straight male audiences, although it was written for girls. The awful marketing strategy is responsible for how people perceive the film as trashy and cheap because it didn’t meet their expectation.
The sad truth is that female filmmakers and actors deal with this all the time. Said Megan Fox interview with Vulture,“… on almost a daily basis, I felt like I was being sacrificed for their gain with almost no concern for my physical well-being. Fuck your mental or emotional well-being. That never is a question when you’re a woman in Hollywood. Whatever they need to do to me or put me through, they were going to do as long as it got them that they needed.”
I believe credit for Jenifer’s Body’s existence today should go to queer cult. I have been personally recommended this movie many times by queer cinephiles. They are the ones who understand the dark humor and the context behind the sexuality of the film. Queer cult has saved this film from being buried in men’s crass assumptions about women, making it a cult classic, even if it’s flawed and definitely not a masterpiece.