Title: Pretty Persuasion
Director: Marcos Siega
Director: Marcos Siega
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, James Woods, Ron Livingston, Elisabeth Harnois, Adi Schnall, Stark Sands, Jane Krakowski, Michael Hitchcock, Danny Comden, Jaime King, Selma Blair
Plot: Kimberly Joyce (Wood) is a student at a prestigious Beverly Hills school for the wealthy along with her best friend Brittany (Harnois) and Randa (Schnall) who soon find themselves drawn into her scheme to take revenge on her teacher Percy (Livingston) after he humiliates Brittany.
Review: I originally watched this film back when it was first released and while I certainly enjoyed it back then it hardly moved me. Of course returning to it now as an older and arguably wiser movie watcher it was great to see that it had actually improved with age. Essentially a reworking of “Wild Things” as Kimberly and her friends accuse their teacher of sexual assault, its clear from the start that Kimberly clearly has darker intentions than she is first letting on.
Opening to Kimberly auditioning for a role on a generic teen soap which she hopes will finally give her the big acting break she’s been chasing despite living a life of luxury thanks to her wealthy father. Still its clear from these opening moments that she already has her ideas of where she wants to be and possibly how to get there especially when she shows the first hints of her ruthless side early on. Kimberly its clear is not one to hold her opinions as we see her openly verbally abusing her step mother at the dinner table with accusations of “fucking the family dog”, while her father seems more concerned with his dog than what she is doing.
Perhaps because of the free reign she is given from the obvious lack of parental supervision, let alone her privileged background its equally obvious that Kimberly sees no limit to what she can achieve or who she has to use or destroy to get there. The most facinating aspect to her character though is how she can convince both Brittany and Randa to go along with her morally questionable plan to essentially destroy their teacher.
While the film might sound like a reworking of “Wild Things” which it essentially is, here though director Marcos Siega infuses the story with a vein of pitch black humour which brings to mind the films of Todd Solondz such as “Welcome To The Dollhouse” which this film certainly shares a similar tone with. At the same time Siega gleefully plays around with our perceptions of the characters almost as if he is determined to create a world in which all the characters are all flawed with the depth of said flaws being used as to how much the audience can side with them. Case in point being Perry who might be setup as a victim here, yet we see him in his personal life every bit the sexual deviant as he has his fiancée play the naughty school girl, reading out Kimberly’s disciplinary essay in what we discover later is his attempt to re-enact her seductive turn. Of course by the time we reach the court room Kimberly is selling it in a much more innocent light.
This constant twisting of facts and reality is where the strength of the film really lies for while we might feel that we know what is going on, Siega it seems is constantly able to find a way to question a character or the direction the film is going to go especially as the film finds ever darker comedic veins to mine, though its hard to say if this as part of a deliberate attempt to provide further shocks or if he’s attempting to satire the privileged lifestyles of these characters.
The assembled cast here are all great with Evan Rachel Wood giving a surprisingly mature and confident performance here as Rachel, easily able to switch between her various states of manipulation so that you never have any doubts about how she is managing to constantly convince people to follow her or allow themselves to be drawn into her schemes be it through blackmail or sexual manipulation regardless of gender as we see when she seduces the local new anchor Emily (Krakowski) to bring more sympathy for her court case and not even the media is resistant to her charms.
Equally fun here is James Woods as Emily’s father who whole largely a supporting role attacks every scene with all pistons firing, spewing out profanity laced comments and projecting rage on all those who don’t meet with his own vision for the world. His money and status like so many around him only fuelling his own delusions of being untouchable so that he can rant freely about women, Jews and “beaners”.
The wasted member of the cast here though is Adi Schnall whose character with her innocent nature and certainly lack of expose to the lifestyle of her fellow students seemingly has been setup to provide some kind of moral centre to the film. Sadly due to the lack of development we get for her character she ends up becoming a missed opportunity, ultimately falling along the wayside as Siega instead chooses to focus his attentions on the ever more complex game which Kimberly is playing.
While Siega it seems certainly has a lot of things he wishes to cast opinion on from the central theme of false rape claims, he also chooses to give nods to high school shootings, racism, porn, teenage sexuality and the effect on children of being brought up under such privileged circumstances it does however mean that the film can feel like its going off in random directions as Siega attempts to find a way to tie it all togther which might feel alittle too disjointed for some tastes, especially with the ending being almost a sure fireway to ensure that everything that came before it is nicely tied up, even if its at the sacrifice of the original direction for the story and really only works thanks to how he has spent the rest of the film developing Kimberly’s character so that her final actions are easily to believe that she would choose to make them.
While perhaps not as dark as the work of the aforementioned Todd Solondz this film still goes some way to providing that same dark humour fix. Yes a similar tale of student manipulation can be found with both the likes of “Election” and “Wild Things” but unlike those here we have a film which is not afraid to push things further still which while certainly not for all tastes is still a film worth giving a spin.