friendship and cruelty
I attended several schools throughout my life and undoubtedly the most popular girl was a girl that no one actually liked. This blew my mind as a teenager. I hated how if one person in a clique was mad at someone, everyone had to be. Popularity, in the high school sense and perhaps even in adult social circles, is not about being liked; it is about fear and power. No film from girlhood explore this more than 1989's Heathers, which by the way is out on Blu Ray now. Heathers is about the social circles that those of us on the outside (myself included) thought we wanted to be part of but in reality, probably did not. Feminist theorist Kate Random Love tells The Guardian. "Of all the portrayals of female adolescence in film, Heathers stands out as one of the best, mainly, I think, because it focuses on one of the key traumas of being a teenage girl: negotiating your social position. What made Veronica ( Winona Ryder' character) such a compelling character was that she wasn't an outsider trying to fit in, à la Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, rather, as part of the 'most powerful clique in school', she was an insider trying to get out."
In many ways, Heathers holds just as much if not more resonance for understanding my teenage friendships. I still find myself saying, "What's your damage?"
I bring up Heathers in order to talk about the sometimes maligned but much discussed Jennifer's Body, which I watched while sick during Spring Break this year. It's a film I wasn't too sure I would like. There was a lot of hype when it came out, both negative and positive and I couldn't bring myself to commit to watching it at the time. The whole time I was watching it, I couldn't stop thinking about Heathers. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. JB has mixed reviews, which I suppose is to be expected. I pretty much hated Juno (I was one of those people who felt it tried a bit too hard to be clever) but at the same time, I'm persuaded by Dodai at Jezebel's argument that
"When I was a teenager, no one I knew said "neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie" before The Breakfast Club came out. No one I knew said "I gotta motor if I'm gonna hit that funeral" before Heathers. It sucks that, instead of being recognized for making the screenplay sparkle with fun language, Diablo Cody gets flogged for 'Codyisms.'"
I think she has a point.
At least in Jennifer's Body, the language is believable coming from Meghan Fox's character. I knew plenty of girls like Jennifer in high school. The relationship between the characters Needy and Jennifer just feels familiar. There always seemed to be a girl I wanted to be friends with but one toward whom I held a deep-seeded anger (jealous much?). The "popular girls" wielded power over girls and boys and with in whose company I did and said things that I'd rather forget. As Dodai says, "Sometimes you're friends with someone and you don't even know why." That pretty much sums up most of my high school friendships with one significant exception.
What's so fantastic about Jennifer as a character is that the metaphors are obvious. She, literally, consumes the boys she sleeps with, the ones from whom she gains her power even before she becomes a literal monster. She also consumes her friend Needy (hello obvious nickname). Their twisted friendship is toxic from the beginning. When Needy explains the clothes she is allowed to wear (nothing with cleavage because that's Jennifer's thing but not too drab so as not to embarrass Jennifer) the power dynamic is so obvious and so familiar that you know, as Needy's opening narration suggests, "Hell is a teenage girl," and nothing is going to end well here.
Someone with whom I was discussing this film recently mentioned how many girls can relate to Needy, and yet one rarely admits to having been the narcissistic and manipulative Jennifer-type. I don't know that I ever had the power of someone like Jennifer but I certainly have been just as cruel. It's a fact of my past that is difficult for me to reconcile. I acted, many times, out of a need to be accepted by other girls and I picked on girls whose weaknesses I could exploit. If we were all making fun of them, no one could make fun of me. In so many ways, it would have been better for my girlhood to be ignored by the popular girls rather than embraced by them. I think of the girls at slumber parties who fell asleep first and woke to find their bras in the freezer or their faces covered in whipped cream. And of course, there's the humiliation of getting one's period. One of the most brilliant things in Stephen King's Carrie is the exploration of the horror of womanhood. With our attention on Carrie White, a "monster" with whom we, as an audience identify, we map our own humiliations onto the ones portrayed in the film. At the end of the film, we, feel sated in our revenge of those girls who mistreated us. It's a theme repeated, perhaps with less subtlety but still powerfully, in Jennifer's Body. There's an interesting message in Needy's last acts as she seeks her revenge on those who ultimately destroyed her friendship. One could argue that it was a friendship that needed interrupting, though perhaps not as violently as it plays out in the film.
There are tons of reviews of this film online and off and I don't mean for this to be a movie review post but rather one where I'm beginning think about the representations of friendships and the evolution of my own friendships and expectations of my female friends, as well as considering the role friendships play in horror films.