Pretty Persuasion

Pretty Persuasion

***

Reviewed by: Nicky Falkof

Will cinema-goers never tire of being manipulated by over-sexed, too-clever-by-half teenage girls? Not if Pretty Persuasion is anything to go by. Another dark teen comedy-satire with a Lolita theme, this competent and often amusing film loses it way towards the end by undoubtedly has a lot of fun getting there.

Beverly Hills teen queen Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood, lusciously living up to the promise she showed in Thirteen) is a brunette in a world of identikit blondes, with the mind of a 50-year-old and the morals of a flea. She befriends hijab-clad Middle Eastern new girl Randa (Adi Schnall) – cue some very uncomfortable cultural jokery - and introduces her to bouncy, blonde best friend Brittany (Elizabeth Harnois). Brittany is going out with Troy, who used to date Kimberly (sound familiar?).

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The three girls all come to grief at the hands of Mr Anderson, their drama teacher – Radna is threatened with a fail because her written English is nonsensical, wannabe-actress Kimberly loses the role of Anne Frank in the school play after an ill-advised comment about “Jew shysters”, and Brittany is talked into humiliating herself in a very public manner in front of Troy. And so, in the best tradition of American high school girls, they decide to get back at him by crying sexual assault. Cue high camp courtroom drama as Kimberly’s sexual demon transforms herself into a pink-clad paragon. Her manipulations, meanwhile, are shown to go deeper and much, much darker than revenging herself on a teacher, and their consequences spin off in unexpected and shocking directions. But this is where the film begins to lose ground.

The first half is a hilarious collection of inappropriateness. James Woods puts in a sterling performance as Kimberly’s Jew-baiting sex and drug-crazed dad, while Jaime King is spot on as bimbo wife number three. Poor Radna bears the brunt of some seriously scathing anti-Arab rants, while Kimberly and her sly tongue happily destroy the rest of the high school population. Mr Anderson is blatantly crazed with lust, which makes the eventual accusation of sexual misconduct all the more pertinent. Also on hand is a scheming lesbian reporter (Jane Krakowski), who inevitably – like most characters in the film - falls victim to Kimberly’s charms.

But as the film progresses it seems to change tone; no longer a pitch black comedy, it now expects its characters to be taken more seriously. Which is practically impossible to do after they’ve spent so much screen time as perfectly pitched social stereotypes. It’s difficult to care about the effects the case has on the girls because all we want is for them to make more cutting remarks, to carry on being bitchy or ditzy or outsidery respectively. When Kimberly’s machinations are eventually revealed there’s not much element of surprise, and the film misfires in trying to create pathos at this late stage. It would have done better to stay brittle, frothy and nasty.

Pretty Persuasion is an effective hybrid of The Crucible, Mean Girls and Heathers, but lacks their generic coherence. It’s jaw-droppingly inappropriate and features some extremely fine comedy moments, but in the final reckoning it tries too hard to have relevant social meaning – the echoes of Columbine are misplaced in this form of satire. Entertaining rather than astounding, it’s a fun watch for girls who were bullied at school (or boys who like heaving teenage bosoms).

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 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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Read more Pretty Persuasion reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Festivals:

Sundance 2005

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