If you don't like films with unnecessary graphic language you may want to put "Pretty Persuasion" on your "films to avoid" list. There is so much exploitive language and perversions (mostly discussed rather than demonstrated) that I was regretting my purchase 20-25 minutes into the story, even though I was laughing fairly often-especially at Kimberly's (Evan Rachel Wood) comments about the relationship between her stepmother and her dog. I was amazed that Wood had agreed to do this thing and felt that in a few years she would regret having it on her resume.
But after about 30 minutes I was either hardened to the dialogue or had begun to understand that most of it was there for a legitimate purpose. And to enjoy "Pretty Persuasion" you have to be willing to accept a fair amount of what first seems needless exploitation. It used to be that teenagers went to the movies to see adults making love, now adults go to the movies to see teenagers making love, or at least speaking and behaving suggestively.
This black comedy and parental neglect social statement comes 50 years after Ed Wood featured it in "The Violent Years". Instead of a gang of privileged girls robbing gas stations, 15 year old Kimberly and her two classmates, best friend Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois) and shy Muslim girl Randa (Adi Schnall), bring sexual harassment charges against one of their teachers. And "Pretty Persuasion" introduces a lot more dark wit into the equation, a function of Skander Halim's screenplay and Marcos Siega's direction.
The most intriguing thing about "Pretty Persuasion" is the way it embeds a complementary theme about Hollywood hypocrisy in the very structure of the film. Promiscuous teenage girls and lesbians are established titillation elements in exploitation films. And during viewing you are subtly persuaded that you are watching a fairly graphic exploitation film. It is only upon later reflection that you realize that you have actually seen nothing, everything was implied by the dialogue or staged partially off-camera. A prudish viewer is not offended so much by the images as by the implications that they have supplied themselves.
As a response to the growing sexual exploitation element in films, beginning in the 1930's Hollywood self-regulated itself through the Hays Code. Its provisions stated that: "pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationships are the accepted and common thing", "scenes of passion should not be introduced when not essential to the plot", and "seduction or rape should never be more than suggested". The tone of "Pretty Persuasion" is disapproving of the sexual relationships that are taking place, its scenes of passion are essential to the plot, and the seduction takes place off camera; making it at least technically in compliance with the old code.
The story is told from Kimberly's point of view and "Pretty Persuasion is a good example of the power of POV in fostering identification and sympathy for the character through whom we are witnessing the main events. By the end most viewers are perversely hoping that Kimberly will be successful. Few actors could elicit sympathy for this character but Wood manages to do so, you work to resist her but ultimately you lose.
You are further won over at the end when you realize that Kimberly's cynicism is largely justified, even if her actions are not. Were she able to choose, Kimberly would not elect to so cynical, it is simply a reflection of a world that is a major disappointment to her. So the character Wood brings to the screen is one that you go from hating, to sympathizing with, to admiring.
The theme of cynicism, as well as its cause and effect, has never been better dealt with than in this film. Using sex as her commodity and insightful analysis of other's weaknesses as her weapon, the disillusioned Kimberly is pretty much able to manipulate the world to suit her designs.
Wood is becoming the Tuesday Weld of her generation but is treating us to stuff in her mid- teens that Weld did not do until her mid-20's. Think of "Pretty Poison" and "I Walk the Line". Or even more appropriately Weld''s portrayal of Abigail in "The Crucible", because at its core "Pretty Persuasion" is a modern version of Arthur Miller's classic; an intriguing blend of "The Crucible", "To Die For" and "Heathers".
After watching Wood in "Pretty Persuasion", you realize that it is not something to be purged from her resume but something she should highlight.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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