Published on June 22nd, 2006 | by Michelle Thomas0
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Ron Livingston, James Woods, Jane Krakowski, Selma Blair, Jamie King, Adi Schnall
If you’re expecting another high school movie like She’s All That or even Napoleon Dynamite you’ll be in for a bit of a shock – Pretty Persuasion, despite the cutesy, slightly naff title, could not be more different.
It opens as Kimberly (Wood) is auditioning for a tv show in which, playing ‘a French exchange student from France’, one of the casting directors helpfully explains, she is asked to squeal ‘ooh la la, I’ve dropped my baguette’ and perform a sexy dance. Kimberley grinds effectively enough, but doesn’t get a call back. At their exclusive Beverly Hills school the next day, she has been assigned to mentor new girl Randa (Schnall), a traditional Muslim, to whom Kimberly explains that she is, frankly, glad to be white. Randa is bewildered by the new world in which she finds herself, where fifteen year old girls talk casually about anal sex, but passively goes along with Kimberly and best friend Brittany (Harnois) as they smoke cigars, watch porn, and discuss their future acting careers.
The girls’ bete noir is their hapless English and Drama teacher, Mr Anderson (Livingston), who exists in a haze of guilty lust towards the nubile flesh that surrounds him. When he drops Kimberly from her role as Anne Frank in the school play after she makes an anti-Semitic remark, humiliates Brittany, and gives Randa detention, Kimberly convinces the girls to join her in a campaign against him, and they accuse him of sexual harassment. It helps that a local tv news reporter, Emily Klein (Krakowski), is on assignment in the school, and soon the whole of Beverly Hills is caught up in Kimberly’s web of seduction and deceit.
Hmm. Pretty Persuasion (oh how I hate the title) is a funny film. It’s a dark and sophisticated comedy set in the privileged glossy world of teenaged girls until the final reel in which it all sort of falls apart, undermining what has gone before. So, in a Heat style review, I’m going to break it down.
What’s good: Evan blooming Rachel Wood. She’s an astonishing versatile and mature actress; having recently seen her as the disaffected but essentially sweet Tobe in Down In The Valley, she is transformed here as the cynical, sexy, foul-mouthed, machiavellian Kimberly. She also manages to occasionally reveal Kimberly’s vulnerable side, particularly in the domestic scenes, where we meet Kimberly’s poor excuse for a father (Woods) and step-mother (King), and begin to get an idea of where things went wrong for her. The script also shines; unafraid of controversy, it induces the kind of wincingly inappropriate laughs elicited by shows like The Office. We know people think these things, but they don’t usually say them aloud. It also makes telling swipes at contemporary culture, reality tv and the pursuit of fame.
What’s bad: There’s an inconsistency of tone that becomes wearing; starting off as a comedy, as the plot segues into darker areas, its no longer appropriate to laugh. Kimberly is described as super-intelligent, but nonetheless her plan depends on so many factors all falling into place simultaneously that its seems slightly ludicrous. It also gets a bit talky, especially when the action switches to the courtroom, and the uneven pacing makes it feel longer than its 110 minute running time.
To sum up: An enjoyable comedy that strays too far into serious territory; worth seeing for Wood’s performance.
DVD Special Features:
Click here to watch trailer
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