Thursday, June 4, 2020

L is for...Lesnicki

In honor of it being Pride Month, each week I'm going to do a short write up about a movie with some sort of LGBTQ+ representation and talk about the content and the quality of said content. I decided to begin with a personal favorite of mine: Jennifer's Body.

Quick, what's Jennifer's Body about?

So, for those of you who don't love this movie as much as I do, here's what Jennifer's Body is about: In the small town of Devil's Kettle, Minnesota we follow teenage best friends Needy Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). When a band Jennifer follows, Low Shoulder, arrives to play a gig at a dive bar in town, Jennifer drags Needy along for the show. As Low Shoulder plays, the bar is mysteriously set on fire, which Needy and Jennifer escape from. However, Jennifer, in shock, gets separated from Needy by Low Shoulder's sinister lead singer Nikolai (Adam Brody). When she resurfaces later in the night at Needy's house, she is disheveled, bloody and puking spiked black vomit. The next day, Jennifer shows up at class seemingly back to normal, much to Needy's confusion. However, the truth soon becomes clear: Jennifer has become possessed by a demon after a botched sacrificial ritual courtesy of Low Shoulder, which transformed her into a boy-eating succubus, one that only Needy can stop.

What's so queer about Jennifer's Body?

Since Jennifer's Body gradually gained its cult following of more than just me over the ten plus years since its release, there's been a lot of discussion about the film's queer content. Specifically, that there is, to paraphrase the DVD commentary featuring director Karyn Kusama and screenwriter Diablo Cody, a romance being conveyed between Jennifer and Needy. Something set up very early when another character calls Needy "totally lesbigay" for happily waving to Jennifer. Although this romance between Jennifer and Needy is not as explicit it could be, barring one scene that I'll get into a bit later, the queerness of the two girls is something that is definitely there if you're looking for it.

Needy and Jennifer, "Totally lesbigay"

I think that Jennifer's queerness is particularly prominent: A lot of Jennifer's actions after being transformed into a succubus is to use her new demonic powers to eliminate anybody Needy expresses interest in or fondness of. The obvious example is her attack on Chip at the climax of the film, as Chip is Needy's boyfriend and Jennifer's main competition for Needy. Something Needy addresses somewhat when she literally asks Jennifer "Why Chip?" Then there's Colin Gray, the Emo boy who's friends with Needy and carries a torch for Jennifer. Jennifer is initially disinterested, turning down his offer to go see The Rocky Horror Picture Horror because "I don't like boxing movies." It's not until Needy tells Jennifer that she likes Colin that Jennifer just conveniently gains interest in Colin. Finally, you have the character only known as "Ahmet from India." (Something Cody says was part of an attempt to parody American xenophobia.) Ahmet from India is a pretty minor character, only showing up twice, but in his first scene it's Needy who points him out to Jennifer in a pleasant manner. Which leads to Jennifer finding him in his second scene and eventually taking him with the intent on eating him. Basically, the point I'm trying to make is Jennifer, essentially, wants Needy to herself and will literally eat anybody who gets in her way for Needy to keep her best friend isolated and dependent on her, in hopes that Needy will eventually reciprocate her love someday. Something that she smartly tries to conceal by eating a fourth boy, Jonas, to cover up the pattern that connects her other three victims.

Needy's queerness, unlike Jennifer's, is a little harder to pin down: Needy is shown to be quite happily dating Chip throughout most of the film and is shown to be mourning his loss near the end of the film's timeline. However, she definitely has a very queer connection with Jennifer, one that directly leads into a scene I mentioned earlier that Kusama and Cody refer to as "The scene": Where Jennifer kisses Needy, who responds by full-on making out with Jennifer. There has been debate for a long time as to whether this scene has a purpose in the story, or if it's just for an assumed straight male audience to get off to. Not helping matters is the fact that in the draft of the screenplay that's available to read online, "The scene" is nowhere to be found. However, a defense slash reading of "The scene" can be found in arguing that it's not to pander to men who just want to drool over Megan Fox, but rather its purpose is to display where Needy's sexual attraction truly lies. Compare Needy initiating making out with Jennifer versus her sex scene with Chip: The sex starts off normal, but is then interrupted when Needy begins having visions of Jennifer. Needy literally stops having sex with Chip, because she can't stop thinking of Jennifer. It's somewhat reminiscent of the attempted sex scene from the infamously queer film A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, which features the male protagonist, Jesse, attempting to have sex with his girlfriend before his possession by Freddy gets triggered, which makes him run away. Like Jesse before her, Needy be queer.

Cinematic Parallels: Jennifer's Body & A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

There's plenty more queerness to be found in Jennifer's Body, including the subtle scene where one character calls Low Shoulder "a bunch of f*g-o's" and Jennifer objects to it. One can read that scene as a part of the film's commentary on small town culture, but one can also read it as a queer woman objecting to an anti-gay slur (Which, you go, Jennifer!) Then, there's also how Jennifer is ultimately defeated: When the two girls are having their final fight, Needy rips off Jennifer's BFF necklace and tosses it to the floor. The BFF necklace is significant, because it is established early in the film that both girls have one as a symbol of their close connection since childhood. When Needy tosses the necklace away, Jennifer looks crestfallen and falls to her bed, allowing Needy to finish her off despite still having the power to eat and kill Needy. This is totally Jennifer realizing Needy is never going to be able to reciprocate the love Jennifer has for her, and choosing to die rather than have to live life knowing Needy will never love her back. Whether you look at the bigger scenes or the littler details, Jennifer's Body is undeniably stuffed with queerness. 

Is this good queer representation?

Well, let's look at the protagonists: Jennifer is a man-killing succubus who exhibits abusive behavior towards her best friend/love interest, with whom she has a toxically feminine and co-dependent connection with. Needy is a queer woman whose queerness is somewhat hard to pin down without going into full analysis mode, as well as the fact that she ends up killing the other major queer character in the film. Not to mention there is some material that hasn't exactly aged well, including Jennifer's use of "I go both ways" to Needy as a punchline when the latter says she thought Jennifer only ate boys. So, this is some fairly problematic queer representation. However, I still think Jennifer's Body isn't the worst in terms of representation since Needy does survive, giving us a badass queer heroine who makes it to the end, and Jennifer is an extremely memorable antagonist. And, on top of it all, Jennifer's Body is just a fun and interesting watch that's worth seeking out.

Next week: I'm going from the L to the G with the second New Year's installment of Hulu's anthology series Into The Dark, otherwise known as "Midnight Kiss"!

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