It’s been more than 13 years since Diablo Cody dared to sick “Jennifer’s Body” on the movie-going masses.
“We were rehearsing earlier today and I was listening to this script and I was just thinking, ‘I can’t get over this crazy fucking screenplay,'” director Karyn Kusama gushed of her and Cody’s bubblegrunge slasher comedy from 2009, while on stage at The Wallis in Los Angeles.
The two halves of the “Jennifer’s Body” team appeared together Tuesday night as part of Film Independent’s Live Read Series. The nonprofit arts organization behind the Spirit Awards, in partnership here with streaming service MUBI, sometimes puts on staged interpretations of beloved film scripts: typically asking one auteur to freshly interpret the work of another. (Jason Reitman took on a gender-swapped approach to Rob Reiner’s “Stand by Me” in 2016, for example.)
But to Kusama and Cody, the feature-length live performance presented an opportunity to revisit their own maddeningly misunderstood bit of demonic possession canon. Having barely broken even at the box office, and still holding a laughably misguided 46 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, “Jennifer’s Body” had a hellish theatrical run thanks to a spectacularly sexist marketing misfire Kusama described as “awful” and “evident of the world at large” in 2018.
“I don’t think we knew it would take the path that it did,” Cody remarked of the cult classic’s “weird journey” to finding its fandom at the live reading.
“We both loved the movie, from the beginning of this journey all the way through its sort of catastrophic release up until now. It was really hard for us, and for everybody who was involved, but we never stopped loving it.”
“Hell is a teenage girl,” Amanda Seyfried’s heroic Needy purrs at the top of the blood-soaked feminist satire, following a mousy high schooler through the metaphoric fires of queer-coded adolescence.
Megan Fox starred in the original as the magnetically malicious Jennifer Check: a cheerleader kidnapped and sacrificed by devil-worshiping indie rock band Low Shoulder in a heartless attempt to get famous that accidentally sees them birth a demon where the flag-twirling teen girl’s soul should be.
The titular role was resurrected for the live read by “Bodies Bodies Bodies” breakout Rachel Sennott opposite “Yellowjackets” star Ella Purnell as a pitch-perfect Needy. The truly brilliant bout of casting emphasized the mining of horror from the lives of young queer women that’s gone on since well before 2009, and played particularly well to Sennott’s comedic strengths.
Cody continued her introduction to the “Jennifer’s Body” performance: “It’s difficult for me to not just burst into heaving sobs honestly right now because I’m so grateful for the appreciation. Truly, nothing makes me happier than when a person approaches me and tells me that they love this movie.”
“At the time, I felt like I was undergoing a kind of scary personal transformation because I had written ‘Juno’ and it had come out and it had been a success, which was completely unexpected,” she explained of her inspiration.
“Suddenly, I felt like a dark energy descending upon me the more Hollywood people I talked to,” Cody added, laughing. “I felt an almost cannibalistic desire for more success that I could not satiate.” A movie about a man-eating cheerleader “made sense,” she says.
The live reading was narrated and directed by Kusama, and performed by a cast also featuring “Scream” (2022) standout Dylan Minnette as Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) and “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” star Daryl McCormack as Low Shoulder lead singer Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody) — among other roles for each.
The (re)cast was rounded out by “Twin Peaks” and “Riverdale” actress Mädchen Amick as Needy’s mother Toni (Amy Sedaris) among various smaller parts; and all-around comedy heavyweight Paul Scheer shined as Mr. Wroblewski (J.K. Simmons) and Colin Gray (Kyle Gallner), among other characters. (Michael Watkins was slated to appear at the reading before a day-of change.)
With elements from the film projected behind the new “Jennifer’s Body” cast and Kusama — plus select props, including some bedroom lamps and a bag of roasted chicken handed to Sennott for that kitchen scene, on stage — the show lived up to the director’s introduction of it as “the ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ of teen movies, of horror comedies, and of queer movies.”
“Hats off to you, Diablo Cody,” Kusama concluded. “For writing something that was so distinctive that there are zingers in this movie and in this script that I say as part of my daily life.”
Highlights from the show included uproarious laughter to Scheer’s delivery on Mr. Wroblewski’s “Let it all out kids!” and Minnette’s spin on the mid-sex Chip line “Am I too big?!” Plus, Purnell and Sennott broke and fell into a fit of giggles during the climactic pool scene exchange: “My tit.” “No. Your heart.”
See photos from the April 11 live reading of “Jennifer’s Body” with Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody below: