7 September 2005 | samseescinema
rarely evokes more than the sound of crickets from the audience
Pretty Persuasion Reviewed by Sam Osborn
Rating: 2 out of 4
Let's get one thing straight, I was not in any way offended by Pretty Persuasion. Many critics have disparaged the film for its aggressive subject matter, but I simply didn't find the film to be the least bit entertaining. I rarely take offense at the subject matter of a film, as long as it is necessary to the proper telling of the film's story. With Pretty Persuasion, the so-called offensive material is quite imperative for the telling of the story. That's not to say however, that I enjoyed the story. Instead of striving for a slick, intelligent and provocative film, Pretty Persuasion lapses into cruelty and absurdly misaimed satire that rarely evokes more than the sound of crickets from the audience. It seems to want to reside in a Napoleon Dynamite-esquire world, where normality was a disease cured centuries ago. But don't hold your breath Napoleon fans, these aren't the quasi-lovable characters of middle America from the Sundance cult phenomenon, but precocious, snooty Beverly Hill caricatures that would rattle the nerves of even the vainest of Hollywood celebs. There are, of course, the film's delightful little moments of hilarious shock factor (take, for example, Kimberly's dialogue with her stepmother) and some strangely impressive performances, but the screenplay hits its balls so far into left field that most of us are left shaking our heads in disappointment.
The film follows the devious scheming of Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) through her early years of high school. Teaming up with her newfound Arab friend Randa Azzouni (Adi Schnall), and boyfriend stealing bombshell, Brittany Wells (Elisabeth Harnois), the three set out to come forward with accusations of sexual assault, incriminating their easily distracted History teacher, Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston), whose interest in young ladies has even reached into his marriage to Grace Anderson (Selma Blaire). Picking up the story is the stunning, lesbian reporter Emily Klein (Jane Krakowsi). Back at home, Kimberly's father, played outrageously by James Woods, worries only over the reputation of his wholesale electronics business. Divorced and re-married with a girlfriend on the side, Woods' character wanders about the house in robe and boxers, spouting ignorant and prejudiced comments and insisting he isn't being a racist, but simply telling the truth. Woods' performance is nearly worth recommending the film for. He steals scenes like they were candy from a baby, demanding the audience's concentration and truly earning the attention comically. This is Woods at his best, however ignorant his dialogue may be.
Evan Rachel Wood has rapidly become my favorite young female actor in Hollywood. Coming off impressive work in Samuel Bayer's Green Day music video "When September Ends" with Jamie Bell, Wood continues with her streak of phenomenal independent work in Pretty Persuasion. Despite the film's creative crutch, Wood takes her virtuoso bitchy role by storm. It's a daring, provocative, and hilarious performance by one of the industry's most intriguing actresses.
But despite all my raving of the film's performances, I still find myself bored with Pretty Persuasion. There's great potential here to make an intelligent and provocative film that could possibly pose as a comic version of American Beauty. Instead, director Marcos Siega takes the low road for scatological and low-brow goofiness, sacrificing all that could be satisfyingly funny. We're left alienated by Siega's quasi-normal world and not allowed to re-connect. The jokes range from sexist to racist, attempting to offend any and all the least bit interested in women's rights. Instead of achieving satire, the film finds itself wallowing in gross immaturity.