Pretty Persuasion
Pretty Persuasion

USA, 2005. Rated R. 104 minutes.

Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Elisabeth Harnois, Ron Livingston, James Woods, Adi Schnall, Jane Krakowski, Selma Blair, Stark Sands, Danny Comden, Jamie King
Writer: Skaner Halim
Original Music: Gilad Benamram
Cinematography: Ramsey Nickell
Producers: Matthew Weaver, Carl Levin, Todd Dagres, Marcos Siega
Director: Marcos Siega


Grade: B- Review by Carlo Cavagna

Pretty Persuasion is a dark teen comedy that tries way too hard to be a dark teen comedy.

Meet sociopath Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood of Thirteen and The Upside of Anger), fifteen years old and going on thirty-five. The film opens with Kimberly weathering a sleazy audition for a couple don't-call-us-we'll-call-you assholes interested only in her underage booty in a cheerleading skirt. That, and Kimberly's racist, oblivious father Hank (a deliciously dissolute James Woods, potbelly hanging out) and awful trophy stepmother Kathy (Jaime King) are screenwriter Skaner Halim's blatant play for sympathy. File that sympathy away. You're going to need it.

Kimberly attends the private Roxbury School, where she saunters around dispassionately assessing the other students for the benefit of a Muslim girl, Randa (Adi Schnall), whom she has magnanimously decided to adopt. Her outrageously cold yet often perceptive evaluations range from the social to the physical, and seem designed by Halim to make any politically correct viewer's hair stand on end.

Left to right, Evan Rachel Wood, Adi Schnall, and Elisabeth Harnois watch an adult video in Pretty Persuasion.

Kimberly has a dim best friend, Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois of various TV movies and series, including Fox's Point Pleasant), who tries to imitate her mentor but ends up just sounding like an idiot. “I know all about the immigrant experience, how difficult it can be. I'm Canadian,” she says to Randa. Kimberly also has a boyfriend she uses for oral sex without reciprocating. (“Barry is technically my boyfriend, but I don't like him,” Kimberly observes in his presence. She's not kidding.) The only person she seems connected to is her absent mother, yet the feeling doesn't appear mutual.

Also populating Roxbury are Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski of Ally McBeal), a feel-good TV news reporter who dreams of digging up something dirty, and teacher Percy Anderson (Ron Livingston of Office Space and Sex in the City). The thoughtfully constructed Percy is unquestionably Pretty Persuasion's most complex character. Intelligent and perceptive, Percy is not necessarily a bad guy, but he definitely has bad impulses. He gives his girlfriend (Selma Blair) a gray skirt that matches Roxbury's uniform, and she unwittingly plays along with his dangerous schoolgirl fantasies. The film asks what defines a bad guy—having the impulses, or acting on them? Unfortunately, this interesting question is not the film's central issue.

Rather, the film appears to want to say something about how our debauched, privileged modern society damages teenagers, while also making us laugh until its improbable denouement. Watch as Kimberly and Brittany show Randa Hank's porno movies and teach her to be bulimic. Talk about satirical fish in a barrel. When Randa and Brittany are each harassed by Percy (the latter girl in an extremely unlikely scene), the three girls form a pact to bring him down.

The film's combination of shocks and laughs works to an extent, in the vein of Heathers and Mean Girls. Despite director Marcos Siega's strenuous efforts, however, this film is no Heathers or Mean Girls. Pretty Persuasion is so cold and ironic that it forgets stories need emotional life, too. There's nobody here to root for. Kimberly isn't even an antihero, because you can't buy into her thin motivations. She's a monster, and I suppose we must blame society for making her so. The film provides some great quotable lines and it's craftily constructed, but the tenuous, convoluted story arc dissatisfies. At the end, there is no catharsis, just the need to wash Kimberly's slime off with a shower.

Review © October 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Samuel Goldwyn Films. All Rights Reserved.

  Comment on this review on the boards  

  Official site
  IMDB page
  MRQE page
  Rotten Tomatoes page