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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

MOVIE REVIEW: Pretty Persuasion persuades audiences around the globe

Published: September 23, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

First-time feature film director Marcos Siega opens Pretty Persuasion by panning across a number of remarkably similar girls from the knees up and the neck down. Their heads are invisible, as those features are not nearly as important as each girls subtly different shade of blonde hair and ample chests. As the camera pans to a door we realize that we are in a waiting room. The cinematography of the sequence evokes the sort of shots of women that are usually found in the teen film genre, i.e. American Pie and its sequels. But something is not quite right with the sequence;

it is almost too easy to realize that this sequence is just glorifying womens bodies, without a Stiffler to crack a crude joke. Absent commentary, the images explicitly call attention to a subtext that is usually left implicit. And in this short sequence Pretty Persuasion shows us that it will be a different kind of teen movie.

As the camera shifts into the second shot we are shown Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) for the first time. She moves her body seductively for two male television executives, but her emotionless expression belies a certain disgust at a system that forces her to perform stereotypes, and disgust for herself for sinking to that level. Her steely blue eyes glare at two men as they cover a cursory interview and even without moving a facial muscle Woods state communicates exactly what her character feels.

The first two shots fit together seamlessly and ably stage the films assault on popular culture even while reveling in its naughty behavior. In the next scene Kimberly befriends Randa, a foreign student from Palestine played by Adi Schnall, and does not know her for five minutes before telling her an off-color joke about Arabic mating and that of all the races, besides white of course, she would least like to be an Arab. Randa represents the token foreign kid who teaches everyone that its ok to be different which makes Kimberlys behavior towards her as hilarious as it is inappropriate for performing in an unexpectedly perverse way. The movie is filled with such biting humor, such as James Woods performance as Kimberlys father who toxically spits out ethnic slurs as he eats mu shu pork. This scene is one of the funniest in the movie but I will only say that the best part in the scene is the interaction between Kimberly and her stepmother, played by Jaime King.

The movie is divided into three sections: the first is a darkly hilarious introduction to the world of Kimberly Joyce which has been described above. The second portion of the film follows the consequences of Kimberly, Randa, and Kimberlys best friend Brittany accusing their teacher of sexual assault. Though this portion is not as devoted to comedy as the first part of the movie there are a number of funny bits. We are also introduced to Jane Krakowskis beach blonde reporter Emily Klein who was assigned to do a puff piece on Kimberlys high school and instead furthers her career by covering the sexual harassment trial.

As the film continues the jokes are fewer and farther between and the third portion of the film abandons the wink-wink cynicism towards popular culture that we find at the beginning in favor of a more didactic impeachment of our movies, society, and even at the audience for delighting in Kimberlys vile behavior. Although the movie is often hilarious, it is not completely successful as its comedic and didactic intentions do not quite match. Nevertheless, I would recommend this movie for anyone who likes dark humor, intelligent filmmaking, or all of the above.

Siega assembles a cast of stereotypical send-ups to play foil to Woods Kimberly Joyce who bares her steely blue eyes throughout that seem both accusatory and calculating. One teacher claims that shes so smart that she scored higher than any other student on the schools IQ test then broke the machine when they asked her to take it again (by spelling out a popular two word expletive with the bubbles).

With bright blue eyes glaring intensely, Evan Rachel Wood proves that her performance as Tracy in 2003s Thirteen was not the limit of her talents. Her performance as the fifteen year-old Kimberly Joyce disgusts your moral sensibility yet makes you crave more of her biting humor.