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The Day Player

Bodies Bodies Bodies Only Has One Joke, and It's From 2017

Bodies Bodies Bodies wants you to know that it’s of the moment. It’s got the neon-soaked color palette, the buzzy Gen Z actors, the requisite dose of social critique and a script by Kristen Roupenian—author of the 2017 short story Cat Person—to prove it. What’s less clear is whether the film understands what that moment is.

Bodies Bodies Bodies takes place at a hurricane party in a remote mansion thrown by a coterie of insufferable 20-something rich kids. We know they’re insufferable because the script takes every chance to remind us of that. David (Pete Davidson) says things like “I look like I fuck, you know?” and Alice (Rachel Sennott) refers to her friends who listen to her podcast as her “fans of the pod.” The group is insensitive to Sophie’s (Amandla Stenberg) newfound sobriety, and dismissive of her working-class girlfriend Bee (an earnest, subdued Maria Bakalova). There’s pleasure in some of the interplay between the cast’s real and fictional personas—Pete Davidson does fuck! Rachel Sennott has gone on podcasts!—but it’s a cheap thrill, akin to cheering when one Marvel character shows up in another’s movie. Still, the performances are strong throughout, and Sennott is a particularly funny standout.

Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Chase Sui Wonders and Rachel Sennott in Bodies Bodies Bodies. Photography by Erik Chakeen.

As the storm starts, the frenemies drink champagne, gobble edibles, snort coke, bicker and play a Mafia-inspired murder mystery game. When one of the crew ends up actually dead—slashed in the throat by a Gurkha sword they’d previously used to saber the champagne—the remaining partiers slowly begin to turn on each other in their search for the killer. At a brisk 95 minutes, the film is diverting enough as the bodies pile up, even if it never evokes much of a sense of mystery. It’s nicely shot, making interesting use of a little bit of light, a lot of darkness and a few neon glowsticks. But it aspires to be something cleverer than just a decently paced slasher movie and the script can’t quite keep up.

At the climax, as the surviving characters fling pseudo-woke buzzwords at each other in a demonstration of their utter vacuity and moral depravity—you’re toxic! No, you’re a narcissist! You’re gaslighting me!—the attempts at scathing comedy fall flat. None of it is specific or surprising. The language is warmed-over, the targets obvious. The script reaches for references including Chekhov and Lord of the Flies, but it’s stymied, even in its sharpest moments, by a certain predictability: it’s never about anything more than what’s on the surface. The film earns some laughs, thanks largely to its stars’ talent for delivering punchlines, but its satire mostly feels passé.

I don’t think it’s overkill to say that 2017 haunts Hollywood. That was the year Weinstein was exposed, #MeToo kicked off and Cat Person went viral. It was a year when many American creative industries, from media to film, realized they needed to change—or at least adopt the appearance of change. Thanks to the extended timelines of film production, in 2022 we’re still getting movies that feel like the most cutting social satire of five years ago.

Bodies Bodies Bodies isn’t as dire on that front as, say, Promising Young Woman or Bombshell. Roupenian sold an early script with the same title to A24 in 2018, but the screenplay was substantially rewritten by, and ultimately credited to, playwright Sarah DeLappe. The final product is interested in the currency of victimhood and the way the language of social justice has been distorted by online discourse. But a really effective satire would have more than one joke. Over and over, the film hammers in the same points about hypocrisy, posturing and how kids these days are always on their phones. A certain degree of repetition is necessary in comedy, but this movie is as repetitive as its title.