Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pretty Persuasion Isn't Pretty (but see it anyway!)

Pretty Persuasion is a film that is sure to invite controversy. The plot, if you haven’t already heard, is about a highly intelligent high school girl that convinces two friends to assist in bringing sexual harassment charges against their English/drama teacher in order to achieve fame and media popularity. While the film’s influences and plot devices show their seams from time to time, director Marcos Siega avoids common Hollywood fluff by pushing Persuasion’s satirical humor into the darker recesses of the American Psyche. Previous efforts like Heathers, Election, Mean Girls, or To Die For, lead the pack of said influences, and yet Pretty Persuasion nudges its way past most audiences’ comfort zones into deeper territories of racism, class issues, and over-zealous desire for notoriety, urging the narrative to its natural conclusion - a pandora's box laden with tragedy.

The real gem of the film is Evan Rachel Wood, whose performance is near-perfect. Her few minor stumbles seem more the fault of direction than of her instincts and delivery. Her ability to hold the darkly satirical line of humor while keeping the audience emotionally engaged and sympathetic to her plight (however ill-advised) is no small feat. While Pretty Persuasion is not a perfect film, its highest merits belong to Ms. Wood and the director’s use of art direction to counterpoint the emotional climaxes of the film. It also features a narrative structure that moves back and forth in time but in this case, unlike so many other recent films that suffer from more the "more device than substance syndrome", Pretty Persuasion uses these devices with self-mocking humor and the effects heighten the suspense and mystery of the story. The film has fairly strong and consistent direction throughout, with momentary lapses into a banal vulgarity, pushed over the top in those moments by James Woods, who plays the father of the movie's anti-heroine.

This might be one of the better independent films out there at the moment, and if you’re on the fence about seeing it in the theater, it should be high on your list of rentals later this fall.


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