Pretty Persuasion

Pretty Persuasion

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Mix cynicism with dysfunction and you have a lethal weapon. Her name is Kimberly (Evan Rachel Wood) and she is a Beverley Hills private school bitch, with an IQ that would impress the Mensa chiefs.

Watching her operate is a lesson in the fine art of manipulation. Nothing fazes her, because she knows where the bodies are buried. She's 15 and already so sexually adroit she makes cheerleaders look like virgins.

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If a comedy is black, you ask, "What shade?" Answer: "Pitch." If anyone mentions Heathers, kill them. It's such an obvious reference and yet Pretty Persuasion takes political correctness so much further down the road to Hell. When Kimberly makes friends with Randa (Adi Schnall), the new Arab girl, because she looks sad and lost, don't think for one minute that this is altruism, even an act of kindness.

Kimberly's best friend is Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois), a lame (as in stupid) blonde, who is going steady with Troy (Stark Sands), Kimberly's ex-squeeze - yes, this is a movie about revenge, jealously and who plays Anne Frank in the school play - and cannot understand the machinations of evil, being a spoilt, privileged girlie girl who has never had cat's urine poured down her dress.

Kimberly shows no emotion. She fakes it occasionally, lets a crocodile tear irrigate her porcelain cheek, but her heart is locked. What she's into is power.

Marco Siega's film breaks new earth in the graveyard of bad taste, but has the courage of its conviction. The morality of these rich kids has been compromised by the world around them. Decadence is hardly their responsibility. Look at their parents. Racism may be endemic, but when you have money, does anyone notice?

The contrast between the confused, religious, pure Randa and Kimberly, who would destroy a teacher's life with a lie and tease an innocent with verbal pornography, is more striking than the separation between the headmaster's hypocrisy and the lesbian TV news reporter's ruthless ambition.

Scattered throughout are cameo performances that emphasise the ire in satire. James Woods, as Kimberly's father, plays monstrous with such uninhibited excitement that you cannot decide whether this is great acting, or lunatic excess.

At a time when Hollywood plays safe for fear of upsetting the born again neo-cons, Pretty Persuasion is a thumb in the eye. Skander Halim's script tears the skin off convention and rumbles around in the entrails of a life turned rancid for want of care. This is a film to admire for what it does and how it does it, rather than enjoy as a wicked secret.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2006
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Pretty Persuasion packshot
A clever girl in a Beverly Hills private school has no inhibitions about causing emotional havoc.
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Nicky Falkof ***

Festivals:

Sundance 2005

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