Movie Review: Pretty Persuasion - iVillage

These days, hyperstimulated teens like their movie and TV characters to talk fast and act crass. Director Marcos Siega, who's made his mark so far on TV shows like Veronica Mars and Oliver Beene, tries to get to this core audience with a highly sexualized tale of an angry prep school girl, Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood), who tries to get back at an insidious world by accusing her English teacher (Ron Livingston) of sexual harassment. But it is still possible in this world to go too far past the edge of tastelessness.

Kimberly is really only trying to get famous, and is lashing back at her outrageously inappropriate father (James Woods), who is a movie industry mogul, and the dozens of casting agents who have made her feel unattractive and untalented when she goes to auditions. She thinks a scandal will propel her into the public's imagination and get her a shot at stardom '- à la Paris Hilton, or, more likely, Amy Fisher. Basically, that makes her a sociopath, and if there is any humor in that, it wears thin quickly.

No matter how Siega dresses up the settings with bold colors that pop like the set of a WB television show and a jaunty soundtrack, he's still dealing with a story about a mean teen with no dignity. Wood, who broke out of her good girl shell in 2002's Thirteen, doesn't pull off the attitude nearly as well as she did in that reality-style drama. She tries to be regal and pouty, but she never gets to do anything clever or imaginative enough to make it worth the effort.

Siega also puts all his eggs in Wood's basket, and doesn't use any of the large cast to good effect. Ally McBeal vet Jane Krakowski is buffoonish rather than comic. Livingston, playing the doomed teacher, is merely the fool, and Selma Blair, playing his confused girlfriend, has little more than a cameo. Point Pleasant star Elisabeth Harnois, playing Kimberly's sycophant best friend Brittany, is just a punching bag for Kimberly's insults. Even James Woods getting to play a drug-addicted cad doesn't add much fun.

All of that might be palatable, if the movie didn't spin off into religious offensiveness. One running "joke" of the film is that Kimberly shepherds around a newcomer to her school, a Muslim immigrant named Randa (Adi Schnall). Kimberly takes great care to inundate this humble and pious girl with American cultural knowledge. She introduces her to junk food and hardcore porn and brings her into her little scheme. Poor Randa is trotted out as a punch line throughout the entire film, dragging it down about as low as a film like this can go.


iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you ask for you money '- and your time '- back


Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, James Woods, Ron Livingston
Director: Marcos Siega
Screenwriter: Skander Halim
Producers: Todd Dagres, Carl Levin, Marcos Siega, Matthew Weaver
Release date: August 12, 2005, limited
Rated: Not yet rated
Distributor: Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions

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