Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) is a 15-year-old school girl who, along with her best friend Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois), wants to be an actress. She’ll do anything to become one but is also quick to remind us of her good will towards people of other nations – by organizing cultural days in the hope of fostering healthy relationships and to support the drama club, of course. Kimberly Joyce is just like any other preppy school girl. Innocent. So, when Kimberly, Brittany and new Middle Eastern student Randa (Adi Schnall) accuse their English teacher Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston) of sexual harassment their innocence goes largely unquestioned. These girls would never lie about something like that, or would they?
Pretty Persuasion is a fantastic film. You may have read reviews that say its clichÃ©d and not a great watch but I would say that this is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a long time. It’s not an easy watch. I felt quite disgusted as the film developed because of its extreme vulgarity and equally awkward situations but it digs beneath the surface to become more than just another Mean Girls. As a piece of social commentary it speaks volumes against society and the way that society raises its offspring. This is a world where children are forced to raise themselves – because their parents are only concerned with their own lives – and to learn by observing rather than being taught. Observing includes television, the media and dad’s porn collection as worldly instructors.
In the world of Pretty Persuasion no one is innocent and this was one of the things I loved about the film. Each character is responsible for some sin. We’re never shown Mr. Anderson doing anything to the girls but throughout the film the way he looks at them, and gets his wife to dress up like a school girl, we know that he has the potential to commit such a crime. Ron Livingston (Sex and the City’s Burger) fidgets and sweats his way throughout his performance with the result that we, as an audience, almost get as frustrated as he is because he doesn’t sit still for one minute. It’s terrific.
There’s also comment on what Americans are doing in the Middle East in the form of new student Randa, the only character who is innocent to a degree (although she does get involved with the other two ‘corrupted’ girls). Ignorant and sincere in her actions she is slow to realise what is happening around her but when she finally does she is forced to take drastic action. Scriptwriter Skander Halim isn’t afraid to comment on the American-Middle Eastern crisis and this adds another fascinating layer to the film, speaking volumes against the supposed evils of American society.
Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) is on her way to becoming a big star. She holds this film together with a devious performance that will have you questioning her motives throughout the film. James Woods is disgusting as her father – look out for the couch/masturbation scene, you have been warned – and it’s refreshing to see the often cool and sophisticated Woods sink to this level of depravity.
Pretty Persuasion is a satire in the vein of John Waters’ Serial Mom. It attacks and mocks almost all its characters and the real world institutions that gave birth to them. It’s a film that will have you thinking about it long after you walk out of the cinema. Disgustingly enjoyable is a phrase that sums it up perfectly. Fascinating is another.