[AFF 2005] Pretty Persuasion

The other film I’ve seen at this year’s festival was the disappointing Pretty Persuasion (IMDB), a HeathersSavedMean Girls clone but without even the critical edge found in those films. The film focuses on Kimberly Joyce (Thirteen’s talented Evan Rachel Wood), a 15-year-old Catholic school student who dreams of being an actress and, after getting the lead in her school play, eventually charges the drama teacher (Ron Livingston, who deserves better) with sexual harrassment. Kimberly encourages her two friends, Brittany and Randa, to file charges as well, while an enterprising reporter happens to be on campus to cover another story. Naturally, the charges become a major media event, and Kimberly, who seduces the reporter, becomes a media darling. I think the film is supposed to be a satire of our scandal-hungry media and of high schools and parents that will do anything to protect their reputations, but it comes across as mean-spirited, particularly towards high school girls who are either utterly manipulative (Kimberly) or completely naive (Brittany). If the film was doing anything particularly interesting with its media critique or its satire of high school life, I’d be less critical. If it were less predictable, I could have enjoyed the film as a low-rent version of Wild Things, but for some reason, the film left me completely cold. In addition, the film’s portrayal of Randa, a Hindu teenage girl unaware of the potential coldness of the American teenager, seemed particualrly mean-spirited.

Scott Weinberg, at eFilmCritic.com, liked the film a lot more than I did, calling it “one of the most brave and adept satires of American teen-dom that I’ve ever seen.” I’m willing to grant the point about the film’s discomfort level. As in Thirteen, Evan Rachel Wood plays up teen sexuality to levels rarely seen in Hollywood films, but the film frames her sexuality in such a moralizing fashion that I don’t see this portrayal as ultimately thinking about sexuality in any kind of complicated way.

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