Monday, October 02, 2006

Pretty Persuasion (2005) (Marcos Siega)

Evan Rachel Wood stars as Kimberly Joyce, an aspiring starlet gifted with an amazing intellect and killer sex appeal - all while being a high-school student in a private school. An apparent culmination of a broken home, a privileged lifestyle and a lack of parental boundaries, "Pretty Persuasion" maraudes as a satire that cuts right down to teenage sex issues, racism and media irresponsibility but its really just a drama with an unhealthy fixation on comedy and no particular place to direct its send-up at.

Armed with an acumen for persuasion, Kimberly uses it on everyone, from her uncouth businessman father (James Woods) to her best friend, Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois). Lying and manipulation is second nature to her, she even manages to convince herself from time to time. She’s an anti-heroine, who you’d never root for. Not even when you learn her motivations. She knows her beauty, although good-looking, is limited, and does not set her apart from the competition when it comes to auditions and screen roles. Kimberly’s not the most popular girl either, as she dispenses insults and backhanded compliments with razor sharp proficiency but she is promiscuous, trading sexual favours for actual favours. Wary of her ‘talents’ are her teachers and principal, as they appear malcontented at her strong and formidable disposition.

Unfortunately, the English teacher, Percy Anderson (Ron Livingston) draws her ire when he punishes her and a new student, an immigrant Arab girl, Randa (Adi Schnall) who was unfairly reprimanded because of a defiant Kimberly. Randa sticks with Kimberly and Brittany, although uncomfortable with their licentious behaviour and oh-so insipid American ways, a true innocent to their immoral antics. At a slumber party, Kimberly schools them in order to enlist them in corroborating an accusation of sexual assault at the English teacher. They go along unwillingly, with the realisation of instant feminist heroism and increased exposure, in the case of Kimberly even if they lose. This incident sets off a media frenzy led by Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski), a lesbian reporter who finds herself in dangerous Sapphic territory with a master seductress in Kimberly. Allying herself with her, Emily sets out on a one-sided crusade against Percy.

What it does well is its careful unwrapping of the truth behind Percy’s accusation. It keeps us in the dark on whether he is indeed guilty. Various instances of Percy’s behaviour with his wife (Selma Blair) and furtive looks at girls in the school make us question the validity of those claims.

There’s a sense of irony in this film, when the filmmakers themselves make caricatures of the characters in the script. It’s so conceited and self-aware that it lampoons everyone and everything, from the Columbine shootings to the war in Iraq. The high-schoolers are either presented as brain-dead but attractive or sex-obsessed losers, adding to their self-parody. Everyone’s a victim in this film and everyone is an object of comtempt. Just as “Saved!” (with another rising starlet in Jena Malone) did it heart and humour, this film did it with condescension and disrespect.

Despite an uproariously hilarious portrayal by James Wood, in a role that you might think is actually James Wood as he is, it’s still a weak and offensive film that just does not know what it wants to be. It’s social commentary gone the way of opine bashing. Shame, considering Rachel Evan Woods actually gives a great performance in this, even more impressive than in “Thirteen”. Undeniably, she’s one to look to out for in the future.

Rating: 2 out of 5


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