25 September 2005 | noralee
Drawn Out Social and Political Satire of Teen Girls
"Pretty Persuasion" crosses "Mean Girls" with an updated slant on Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour," but its social and political satire feels in too many scenes like an extended "Saturday Night Live" sketch.
The film is heavy-handedly based on the sociological findings that instead of doing Columbine-like violence, teen age girls lash out with spiteful aggression in social situations. The film makes the extended case that teen girls are more like Machiavelli than "Carrie" or as in "Heathers." The male debut writer and director can't resist adding in dollops of male fantasy about girls and women. Even under the guise of examining how ambiguous male-driven media messages from Britney Spears to Lolita to TV shows, etc. create confusing role models of appropriate behavior for girls in their real lives, males are seen as clueless pawns of younger females.
One effective touch is to replay scenes in flashbacks from different angles to show how miscommunications and misunderstandings can occur and be manipulated.
Individual scenes and caricatures are very funny, particularly James Wood doing a comic take on his "Ghosts of Mississippi" role. Adi Schnall is touching as a naive Muslim student thrown in with the sharks of the American Dream. Jane Krakowski enjoys making fun of the ambitious bombshell roles she usually plays. Elisabeth Harnois is the most affecting as the best friend, but she is so natural she almost seems to be in a different movie. Selma Blair has a brief funny scene as a wife mocking her husband's fantasies, though a notable episode of TV's "Angel" did the exact same scene with more dark bite, as well as the general theme taken up more effectively by Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Ryan Murphy in "Popular."
But most of the rest of the broad, scatter shot attacks on ethnic, racial and sexual PC clichés end up just wooden and go on repetitively for too long. Individual lines like "I can sympathize with the immigrant experience because I'm Canadian." are amusing, as are ongoing jokes about putting on the story of Anne Frank as the high school play, but pile up in dialog that even the commanding Evan Rachel Wood has trouble making seem real.
The closing montage ties all the disparate themes together in a sudden shift of tone, but it was a long time getting there, in moving from the obvious to the touching to twists in using high school as the usual metaphor for the world at large.
The cinematography is all appropriate bright pink. The set design is full of visual jokes, more than the can be picked up quickly.
For a film set in the world of teenagers, there are few songs on the sound track, perhaps due to budget limitations, but more music might have helped the pacing.