Jennifer’s Body: Low Shoulder For the Win
The reason this movie works is only in the film for about 10 minutes, total.
Screenwriter Diablo Cody experienced one of the fastest cases of backlash ever recorded. Her debut script, 2007’s Juno, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and put her on the map in a major way1. But Cody’s hyper-cool style rankled (er, I may have contributed to the rankling) and just two years later her second produced film script, Jennifer’s Body, was almost doomed to be shat upon as a result2. Cody’s self-consciously cool dialogue in the early going of Juno is just so easy to hate and mock, you can easily miss the fact that it exits the film pretty quickly, and the majority of the movie is actually a lot of fun3.
Jennifer’s Body, on the other hand, has its own problems. Which is not to say that it’s a bad movie—not at all, actually. It’s an underrated gem, and I encourage you to check it out. But it’s not a totally successful film; while its themes exploring how men abuse and consume young women and succeed as a result are powerful (especially due to the inversion Cody crafts, where the female victims use their own abused bodies to exact revenge) there is, once again, a little too much eagerness on Cody’s part to be cool, to let everyone know she knows how smart she is4.
But in the end, the film works. And a major reason it works is not on screen for very long. Because the fake band in the film that sets off all the mayhem, Low Shoulder, is a perfect piece of writing5.
There are so many of us, and we're all so cute
If you’ve forgotten the plot of Jennifer’s Body, here’s a spoilery recap: Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is the Hot High School Girl Übermensch, and her bestie from childhood is the mousy Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried). As portrayed by Fox, Jennifer is an impossibly hot teenager6 whose relationship with Needy is a bit strained as they’ve gone down different paths in school7. One night Jennifer persuades Needy to go see an up-and-coming indie rock band, Low Shoulder, at a local bar. The band preys on Jennifer—who is, after all, a fairly naive kid, a child—and persuades her to get in their van with them after a fire breaks out at the bar. Instead of classic groupie sexual assault, however, Low Shoulder has something different in mind: They’re going to sacrifice Jennifer, who they presume to be a virgin, to Satan in order to get rich and famous8.
What they don’t know, however, is that Jennifer isn’t a virgin. Their deal with the devil goes through—but instead of dying, Jennifer is possessed by a demonic force, granting her perfect beauty, resilient health (she heals instantly as long as she’s fed recently), and supernatural powers—as long as she feeds on human souls. Luckily, Jennifer is the Hot High School Girl Übermensch, so luring men to their doom is pretty easy for her9.
There’s a lot of rich stuff to unpack here. There’s the implication that women are only valued by society when they’re virginal, prompting this heartbreaking line from a terrified Jennifer—who is, let’s not forget, a 17-year-old girl—“Yes. Yes, I'm a virgin. I'm a virgin. I've never even done sex. I don't even know how. So, you guys should find somebody. Who does. Know how.” What’s so heartbreaking about this line is that Jennifer assumes the band wants an experienced girl, because she doesn’t yet understand that the male-dominated world is terrified of women of experience, and much prefers naive virgins they can gaslight and manipulate with impunity. There’s also the implication that sexual experience literally turns women monstrous and the way the abuse and trauma Jennifer suffers prompts her to become a predator herself10. All of these aspects of the story are interesting, but what’s really interesting is Low Shoulder and their utter, absolute mediocrity.
We’re working with the beast now. And we’ve got to make a really big impression on him.
Low Shoulder is a band that is clearly, obviously mediocre11. Made up of mediocre white men, with a lead singer portrayed by Adam Brody, who has made a career of playing mediocre white men12. What’s terrific about them is how small and grimy their desires are. These guys don’t want to make the greatest record of all time. They don’t aspire to writing a guitar riff that will displace “Black Dog” in rock history, they don’t care about composing a concept album that will change music forever. As noted, they don’t even want to sleep with groupies. All Low Shoulder wants is a platinum album and a private jet.
The fact that the band is so non-threatening and frankly uninteresting is essential to the story, because it underscores how women like Jennifer are consumed not by some monolithic, all-powerful cabal, but by average assholes13. A lesser film would have really played up the Satanism aspect and made the band either incredibly successful already and merely maintaining their legendary status with a fresh sacrifice, or leeringly corrupt, true believers in evil who delight in inflicting pain. In fact, Cody has admitted she initially conceived of the band as total sleazeballs, Motley Crue on steroids, only to realize that would be a mistake14.
The way Low Shoulder approach making a deal with the devil is just so petulant it lands Cody’s real point with incredible finesse. These guys don’t believe in good or evil, they have no moral code at all. They simply believe they deserve more, and they’ve been denied. As a result, they are free to do anything that grants them their rightful status. If that means selling their souls and torturing and murdering a child, so be it. Because they deserve it.
This, of course, is the mindset of millions of mediocre people around the world, a great many of them white and male. This mindset tells them that it doesn’t matter how many people suffer, because a great injustice has been done to them and that justifies any reaction, no matter how loathsome or violent. If Low Shoulder had been cool at all, even the slightest bit cool, it would have undermined the point, which is kind of an anti-superhero concept: The worst shit that happens, this movie says, isn’t done by supervillains. It’s done by below-average assholes like the guys in Low Shoulder.
Luckily for me, the Age of the Mediocre White Man isn’t quite over, or I’d be in some serious trouble.
Next week: More mediocre men in ‘X’
It also established the word “homeskillet,” for which I will never forgive her.
The only thing more hated than success is female success.
Plus, people delight in taking people down after they’ve been crowned “cool” or “brilliant,” something I know … almost nothing about, since no one has ever considered me cool or brilliant. Excuse me, I need to be alone for a moment.
JENNIFER: Hey, Monistat!
NEEDY: What's up, Vagisil?
is definitely the problem here.
Even the name of the band implies the sort of deep, deep laziness that dudes like this bring to every aspect of their ‘art’.
Maybe because she was 23 when she filmed this. Hollywood’s use of twenty-something (and even thirtysomething) actresses in high school roles seriously screwed up my sexual calibrations, man.
For all its cleverness, this film still leans in hard on that most awful of tropes: Hot Person Made Unattractive via Glasses. As a man who has worn glasses since he was 10, I can attest that wearing glasses has exactly zero impact on your attractiveness, or so my Mom always told me.
One of the best, subtle things about the script is how absolutely disinterested Low Shoulder is in having sex with Megan Fox. Combined with the very Sexy Fox-focused marketing of the film, this is absolute genius.
I’d love someone to write the gender-flipped version with some nerdy geek in the main role, following his increasingly despairing attempts to lure women into his grasp as he gets progressively weaker. We could base his wardrobe on my high school photos.
But this is such a common trope in horror it’s almost not worth pointing out.
The film flirts with the fascinating phenomenon of bonding with a mediocre band at live shows and imbuing their mediocre work with unearned emotional resonance. If you spent time going to club shows as a youngster like I did, this part of the film felt incredibly realistic. I have vibed to many awful bands simply because I had a fun time at their shows. Ten years later you fire up that favorite song and you stop it after thirty seconds and question your sanity.
Would Mediocre White Men make a terrific band name? Yes.
Can confirm. Evidence: Am average asshole, have done serious damage throughout my life.
There was a time when my commitment to accuracy would have required me to figure out how to include the umlauts in Motley Crue. That time is long gone. The Age of Lazy Jeff is in Ascendance, and y’all are lucky I (sometimes) remember to spellcheck this.