Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) is a privileged fifteen-year-old Beverly Hills high school girl obsessed with the desire of becoming an actress and very misanthropic tendencies. After being dumped by her boyfriend, her supposed best friend Brittany (Elizabeth Harnois) has no problems dating him. Masking her unhealthy jealousy Kimberly puts a brave face on things, almost deluding herself that she in fact does not care.
One morning Kimberly notices Randa (Adi Schnall) a new student coming to Roxbury all the way from some Arab country. Kimberly easily manipulates Randa into liking her, taking her under her wing, but of course it is all part of an obscure evil plan involving racism, accusations of sexual harassment and sleeping with a horny lesbian journalist. Will Kimberly’s genius plot work out for her in the end? Or will she just feel more empty and alone? It’s fair to speculate.
Pretty Persuasion is a darkly hilarious, twisted little satire on American society and our Western ideals. It discusses a broad spectrum of topics raging from women’s role in society, to our Judeo-Christian family values and the influence of mass media on people. While some of those ‘issues’ are only touched upon, Skander Halim’s sharp writing always manages to be spot on and funny. Ramsey Nickell’s colorful, yet cold and almost sterile cinematography helps reflecting Kimberly’s thought process, while perfectly contextualizing the clean and clinical ambiente, home of the rich and famous.
Marcos Siega’s direction might be a bit unfocussed at times, presenting some of the subplots in a less than satisfying way, yet there is a distinct charm and great command of the craft that genuinely comes through in this picture. It also makes me hope that he’ll take a break from television to bring us another shiny gem like Pretty Persuasion. He has a great way with actors, managing to get a great performance out of everyone involved, especially Evan Rachel Wood (who also looks stunning) and James Wood, playing her wacky, almost insane father in the film.
Pretty Persuasion is definitely my kind of film. I can certainly identify with Kimberly Joyce, and I’m sure we’ve all felt like her at some point, though most of us haven’t acted on it. The film manages to make you feel for a character that is ostensibly a ‘horrible person’. The worldview of the filmmaker mostly reflect my own, lamenting some of the same frustrations, namely the shallow surface of politically correct and morally rotten, corrupt mass media. While the movie could be viewed as an overly cynical sociological commentary, to me it sticks out as a fantastic counter programming to television’s totalitarian and superficial moral agenda.
On a lighter note, I get great pleasure out of films like Mean Girls (2004), Heathers (1988) and even The Virgin Suicides (1999) presenting us with the mysteriously intriguing world of female adolescence. There is just something alluring to the idea of being a teenage girl that I can endlessly come back to: The ephemeral aspect of youth, the mystical transitional phase between being a girl and a woman. I think Pretty Persuasion fully explores this concept, transporting the viewer into a magical, forbidden and even crazy world not many have access to.
Rating on Second Viewing
(with my brother, on our Sony Bravia)
8.5 out of 10