Pretty Persuasion

Buried beneath the cute outfits and fast metabolisms of high school girls, lies a daunting, faceless evil. They learn to rob your dignity through sexual enticement and manipulation, long before they're legally allowed to drive. In Pretty Persuasion, Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) may be the most conniving seductress in the 90210 zip code, and she knows how to get exactly what she wants. It’s easy to hate her, but equally easy to fall under her spell.

Kimberly is a 15 year old schoolgirl living in a Beverly Hills mansion with her vehemently racist father Hank (James Woods). When he isn’t launching into diatribes about the ills of other races, he is sitting on the couch with his hand firmly planted in his underpants, in a very Al Bundy fashion. Kimberly hates being home and loathes having to spend time with her father’s new love interest Kathy (Jaime King), who is obviously with him for his bloated bank account. Outside of the home, things aren’t much more rewarding for Kimberly, who auditions for misogynistic films with scantily-clad women dropping items in mini skirts. She can’t seem to land her big break. If only she were famous, then all her woes would be reduced; or so she is brainwashed by the media into believing.

At school, she is friendly with bubbly blonde Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois) and a new Arab foreign student named Randa (Adi Schnall). Randa appears to be naïve and clueless: qualities unfamiliar to Kimberly since Kindergarten. Other students are horrible to Randa, calling her a terrorist and laughing out loud at their own racist jokes, but Kimberly defends her, and we’re left wondering what her motives are. The new Drama/English teacher Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston) has a fetish for his young students in their pink and grey outfits, and his infatuations are far from subtle. “Forget math and science; high school is all cockteasing 101” a fellow teacher expresses to him over lunch, as he eyeballs the young girls himself. Kimberly uses Mr. Anderson’s attraction for minors to her advantage, as she spearheads a mission to bring him down and promote her own status, often with brutal consequences.

Pretty Persuasion is a biting satire about how ridiculous our culture has become, and deserves commendation for that. While people may dismiss it as another cheap knockoff of mean-spirited high school movies like Heathers or Election, it has outstanding social commentary buried beneath the surface. It deals with the ignorant racism that people wear proudly on their sleeves, the media’s impact on young impressionable minds, and the loss of youth in our society. The kids in the movie behave like the cast of "Sex & the City", and they are only a few years post-puberty. As frightening as that may be to witness on the big screen, visit your local middle school and you’ll discover a reality that is even more appalling.

Dark comedies are a dying breed (good ones that is), and in desperate need of resuscitation. Pretty Persuasion is hard to watch, but it’s a reminder of the potential scripts have before big studio executives jump all over them and try to make them more audience-friendly. Writer Skander Halim penned the screenplay years ago, and though he thought it had zero chance of ever being made, he refused to let it be commercialized. Marcos Siega, a well-known music video director, was drawn to the uniqueness of the project and gave it his own scary, colorful, retro-Stepford Wives vibe for the MTV generation.

The script has an excellent blend of uncomfortable realism and hysterical camp. You’ll laugh out loud at the dialogue, until you start to feel dirty for doing so. The standout of the film is Evan Rachel Wood, in a mind-blowing performance as a girl who looks like a cherub but hides the heart of a demon. All of the players in the movie have fallen from grace by the end, succumbing to their vile temperaments under her influence. There are no innocents here. Pretty Persuasion unleashes the darkest side of human nature, and if it makes me a bad person for enjoying the heck out of it, then so be it.