Pretty Persuasion (8/10)
by Tony Medley
This could just as easily have
been called “Mean Girls meet The Crucible.” Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel
Wood) is a precocious 15-year-old at a high school where the wealthy send
their children. Her friends, Brittany Wells (Elisabeth Harnois) and Randa
Azzouni (Adi Schnall) are followers, who are in thrall of Kimberly.
Kimberly’s father, Hank Joyce (James Woods), is an unrealistic bigot,
probably the weakest part of the movie. He’s got a trophy wife, Kathy
(Jaime King), who is subject to constant verbal abuse from Kimberly.
Percy Anderson (Ron Livingston)
is an English teacher who looks like he’s got some kind of problem with
sex. The film moves along with Kimberly manipulating just about everyone.
When all three girls have problems with Percy, suddenly Percy finds
himself a defendant in a sexual abuse trial represented by a friend who is
also an incompetent attorney.
This is a dark, dark comedy.
Kimberly is not just precocious, not just a sexual predator, she’s a total
predator of all things. The film shows high school kids who are more
sexually experienced than many adults.
The depiction of Kimberly’s
home life is starkly negative. Hank is an over the top jerk, always
dressed in a slovenly robe and underpants and concerned only with himself.
But we are supposed to believe that he’s a successful businessman with a
reputation to protect, a concept that’s virtually impossible to swallow.
There is one disgusting scene in which we see Hank pleasuring himself with
is such an unrealistic character that the film loses momentum when he’s
Regardless, this is a
devastating portrait of a sociopathic teenager, one who reveres another
teenager accused of a Columbine type massacre. Wood gives a brilliant
performance as the manipulative, cold sociopath. The film has its funny
moments, but, in the end, it’s darkly serious.
It took four years for writer
Skander Halim to get his script produced. Director-co-producer Marcos
Siega read the script and wanted to direct it, but had a problem. Halim
wanted to direct. But after meeting with Halim, and being promised that
he would “fight not to let anyone change the script or turn it into
another teen comedy” by Siega, Halim withdrew his demand to be a director
and turned it over to Siega. Good decision because Siega directs the film
in a way that telegraphs to the audience that there is more to this film
than a selfish girl and some funny lines. There’s something that’s going
You might not like the
in-your-face sexuality of the characters. You might not like the language.
But you won’t get bored.
July 29, 2005