Pretty Persuasion

on August 12, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
Ever since 1989's "Heathers," the pretty-on-the-outside, pure-evil-on-the-inside teen queen has become something of a stock character in high-school set black comedies. From the macabre "Jawbreaker" to last year's more lighthearted "Mean Girls," a young femme fatale's sexual and psychological manipulations have developed into a familiar onscreen motif. "Pretty Persuasion" takes this theme to new extremes, but with little irony and entirely no payoff.

Kimberly ("Thirteen's" Evan Rachel Wood) is an aspiring actress who, along with her best friend Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois), rule the roost as the most popular girls at their elite Beverly Hills high school. Constant competition with one another--for the lead role in the school play, for example, and over Kimberly's ex- and Brittany's current boyfriend Troy (Stark Sands)--apparently does not interfere with the girls' "friendship." The pair become a trio when Kimberly decides to mentor Randa (Adi Schnall), a Middle Easterner new to both the United States and the school.

Trouble kicks into high gear when English teacher/drama coach Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston), who lacks discretion in his attraction to female students, earns the respective ire of the three girls. Under Kimberly's self-assured leadership, the girls accuse Mr. Anderson of assaulting them, which results in a very public trial. The truth behind the events eventually unfolds, revealing--to absolutely no surprise--Kimberly's motivations and the depths of her depravity.

As is the case with black comedies in general, "Pretty Persuasion" seeks to grab its audience's attention by presenting controversial matter with bitter irony. Here, Skander Halim's script provides plenty of shock value, such as racist remarks, somewhat subtly out of Kimberly's mouth as an after-effect from the more overt comments made by her caricature of a father (James Woods), as well as a precocious sexuality that includes Kimberly's seduction of an ambitious television reporter (Jane Krakowski). These ploys, however, smack of shock for shock's sake. Whether Kimberly-as-monster is the product of parental neglect, the Hollywood fame game, pop culture's sexual idealism of young girls or all of the above doesn't seem to matter that much by film's end--or maybe it's just hard to care one way or another.

Smug, rude and ultimately lost, "Pretty Persuasion" is, at least, in perfect emulation of its "heroine." Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Ron Livingston, Elisabeth Harnois, Adi Schnall, James Woods and Jane Krakowski. Directed by Marcos Siega. Written by Skander Halim. Produced by Todd Dagres, Carl Levin, Marcos Siega and Matthew Weaver. An IDP release. Black comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 105 min

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