Meaner Girls or The Sound of Me Caring
Review: Pretty Persuasion
|Evan Rachel Wood and Jane Krakowski in Pretty Persuasion|
What begins like a tepid remake of Clueless goes on to be as brazen in its way as Saved! Pretty Persuasion stars Evan Rachel Wood in a calculated performance as calculating 15-year-old Kimberly Joyce, in whose mouth butter wouldn't melt – but it might freeze.
An aspiring actress, she's introduced giving a mediocre audition for the role of a "French hottie" in a TV soap. Then she's the self-appointed guide to Roxbury Academy, an exclusive Beverly Hills high school, for Middle Eastern immigrant Randa Azzouni (Adi Schnall). Kimberly displays her cultural sensitivity by repeating an anti-Arab joke to Randa, and her best friend, Brittany Wells (Elisabeth Harnois) empathizes: "I know all about the immigrant experience, how hard it can be. I'm Canadian."
Kimberly's attitudes can be explained by the nonstop racist (especially anti-Semitic) ranting she hears at home from her father (James Woods, going for a Jack Nicholson "I've got a gut!" look), while his latest trophy wife (Jaime King) is trying to get Kimberly to call her "Mom."
The school's best actress, Kimberly beat Brittany out for the lead in the school production of "The Diary of Anne Frank." Brittany is dating Kimberly's ex, Troy (Stark Sands), while Kimberly is going with a football player she doesn't like but who can be manipulated into going down on her without reciprocation.
True or not, rumors have a way of becoming fact. English/drama teacher Percy Anderson (Ron Livingston) is said to molest female students ("a podiatrist," Brittany calls him), and his sex play with his wife (Selma Blair) would seem to confirm it.
Then there's TV reporter Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski), who's said to be a lesbian, and the way she kisses her camerawoman, Nadine ("Six Feet Under's" Tina Holmes) confirms that. As a follow-up to shootings at a Bel Air school,l Emily is sent to Roxbury to do a "human interest piece."
Suddenly a scandal erupts at Roxbury ("They give me fluff and I turn it into dirt," Emily boasts) when Kimberly, Brittany and Randa accuse Mr. Anderson of inappropriate behavior.
If the outcome of the story isn't totally surprising it may be because the viewer is shocked out to the point of numbness by then. The intricacies of the plot, including the new light they're put in at the end, show brilliant black comic writing on the part of Skander Hamil.
In addition to clever plotting there are countless incidental grace notes, from the school arms dealer to the boy (Johnny Lewis) who "packed Kimberly's fudge chute" last year, then broke up with her because he didn't "want to go with a girl who would let a guy do that to her."
Pretty Persuasion has too much of an "alternate universe" feel to it at first but once you get on its wavelength it's a total delight, right up there with Election, Heathers and Saved! among classic dark high school comedies. Think a non-musical "Chicago 90210."
It's hard to believe Pretty Persuasion comes from the same director, Marcos Siega, who went on to sell out and make Underclassman. It's like Angela Robinson going from D.E.B.S. to Herbie: Fully Loaded, except in her case the studio film was the better one.
The most likely catchphrase to emerge from Pretty Persuasion: "That is the sound of me not caring." You'll never hear me say that about this movie.
Steve Warren is a local actor and film reviewer. His reviews can also be seen weekly in the Sunday Paper.