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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 6.45%
Average: 29.03%
Pretty Bad: 22.58%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Pretty Persuasion
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by Scott Weinberg

"You heard it here first: this movie's going to be talked about. A lot."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: "Pretty Persuasion" is absolutely brutal. It's scathing and cruel and frequently somewhat offensive. It's also one of the most brave and adept satires of American teen-dom that I've ever seen. If the handful of mid-screening "walkouts" were any indication, this movie is one that's bound to cause a whole lot of argument and debate among the braver moviegoers. Me, I love the thing. And if you're a fan of black comedies that don't pull any punches, I suspect you'll be appreciating "Pretty Persuasion" from my side of the fence.

As I sat there, joyously stunned by the unapologetic shock of Pretty Persuasion, I was reminded of movies like Heathers and Election...with just a dose of Wild Things thrown in to up the discomfort factor. It's a stunningly brazen satire of the ugliness inherent within the American High School system, one that gleefully navigates through raunchy sex humor while savaging its targets with a firm and uncompromising fist. Pretty Persuasion is a comedy built upon sincere anger and outrage, and I for one applaud the filmmakers' unflinching commitment to making their point in the most outspoken fashion imaginable. Basically, Pretty Persuasion makes Heathers look like Sixteen Candles.

If only we could get one Pretty Persuasion for every five Hilary Duff movies, I'd be a much happier movie freak.

The setting is one of California's fanciest and swankiest private schools. Our tour guide is the achingly beautiful and effortlessly cruel Kimberly Joyce. Kim thinks she's a kind-hearted and open-minded little ingenue, yet it only takes a few short minutes before we realize there's a black soul hidden beneath this lovely exterior. Kim is leading a school tour for Randa, a soft-spoken Hindu girl who is new on campus. Along with her adorable-yet-obtuse best friend Brittany, Kim takes Randa under her wing, intent on introducing Randa to what their world is all about: basically she teaches the fine art of sexual manipulation, intolerance and venomous selfishness. (It will only take about 13 minutes of Pretty Persuasion before you absolutely despise young Kim...but you also won't be able to take your eyes off of this gruesomely nasty train-wreck of a teenager.)

After a series of events been left undisclosed here, the trio hatches a detestable scheme to shame one of their least-admired educators. Kim, Britt and Randa file false accusations of sexual abuse against their English teacher...who, admittedly, is quite the letch indeed. And thus begins a media frenzy of epic proportions, which is precisely what Kim was looking for in the first place! A colorful collection of sick-souled scumbags and opportunistic leeches populate the periphery, none as howlingly hilarious as Kim's own father (as played by James Woods in an indelibly disgusting role that absolutely defies description.)

In the lead role, Evan Rachel Wood is simply...perfect. How this lovely young actress is able to channel such a level of noxious malignance is beyond me, but her performance is one for the record books. Ron Livingston, as the wrongly-accused (yet undoubtedly sleazy) Percy Anderson, delivers what's most likely the best work of his career. In addition to James Woods' horrifically entertaining performance, we're offered some great supporting work from the likes of Selma Blair (as Percy's wife), Jane Krakowski (as an opportunistic (lesbian) TV reporter) and Jaime King (as Kim's howlingly stupid stepmother). And a special bout of praise is due to both Elisabeth Harnois (as Brittany) and Adi Schnall (as Randa). Both young actresses bring a decidedly different flavor to the proceedings, and both serve as effective counter-weights to Kim and her voracious cruelty.

Pretty Persuasion caused a lot of after-flick discussion at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Several critics (many of whom I know and quite respect) found the movie way too ugly; that any possible points that could have been made were buried beneath three too many layers of shock-value racism and pandering sex jokes. And while the detractors make their arguments very well, the simple truth is that Pretty Persuasion said something to ME. It's patently obvious that this movie springs from a place of sincere frustration and outrage, and the result is a take-no-prisoners approach that would make even the bleakest humorist stand up and take notice.

On its surface, Pretty Persuasion is frequently drop-dead hilarious in an "Oh my god, did they really say that??" sort of way. But as Kim wriggles deeper and deeper into the muck of her own trenchant selfishness, the movie becomes one of the more audacious and unapologetic social commentaries you're likely to see. Like, ever. And while some could (mistakenly, in my opinion) dismiss the affair as low-minded and obvious America-bashing, others will most likely see Pretty Persuasion for what it is: a piercing, shocking and strident glass of ice-water into the face of complacency, a giddily gross and intentionally shocking wake-up call to the youth of America...or, more likely, to their parents.

This is a movie that speaks volumes to the thick-skinned cynic and the cautiously-optimistic idealist that co-exist within yours truly. It's a dangerously dark and perpetually ballsy caricature that contains more truth and insight than just about any other "teenager" movie you're likely to see. Expect this movie to divide audience right down the middle, inspire an untold number of outraged responses, and cause all sorts of hand-wringing controversy. And frankly I think that's a damn good thing for a movie to do. (P.S. Do leave the younger kids at home for this one.)

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originally posted: 01/29/05 06:49:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/26/08 Frances Lind Dark yet entertaining. Evan at her best. Rand was Muslim, not Hindu. 4 stars
3/16/08 ladavies Like Heathers without the wit. 3 stars
5/23/06 Jack Sommersby Brilliantly original and mammothly entertaining! A new American classic. 5 stars
1/30/06 TheOthersFan was that final scene supposed to be shocking? 3 stars
8/08/05 Jorge Boose I liked it fine. Something unusual, for a change! 5 stars
2/26/05 Robert Austin AMAZING! I was blown away!!! 5 stars
2/03/05 David Filmore Excellent 5 stars
1/30/05 Garnet Leib WOW 5 stars
1/26/05 Mike Kourey Great Movie--Like American Beauty, but better 5 stars
1/26/05 Elle Haight Fabulous! Dark, I hope it gets distribution! 5 stars
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  12-Aug-2005 (R)
  DVD: 13-Dec-2005



Directed by
  Marcos Siega

Written by
  Skander Halim

  Evan Rachel Wood
  James Woods
  Ron Livingston
  Selma Blair
  Jaime King
  Jane Krakowski

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