Pretty Persuasion (2005)
Words by Catrin Brooke
Pretty Persuasion (2005)
Marcos Siega’s Pretty Persuasion follows the vengeance of Kimberley Joyce, a precocious and manipulative high school student turned vindictive sex kitten, who accuses her English and Drama teacher of sexual harassment. A black-comedy at its core, the film takes no prisoners in amassing its great wreckage, ensuring that this Beverly Hills High school is a ritual of humiliation.
Marcos Siega’s Pretty Persuasion (2005) follows the vengeance of Kimberley Joyce, a precocious and manipulative high school student turned vindictive sex kitten, who accuses her English and Drama teacher of sexual harassment having been left devastated by his decision to cast her best friend, instead of her, as the lead in the drama club production of The Diary of Anne Frank. How any normal teenage girl would react.
The film ticks every box in ensuring that high school is a ritual of humiliation. Girls are tempted to partake in toxic sex politics, boyfriends are stolen, and casual xenophobia fills the hallways, ensuring that we remain as uncomfortable as possible throughout the film. Unfortunately for Siega, it’s all been done before, but by better movies. Mean Girls came out in 2004, beating Pretty Persuasion to the post by one year, and all things considered, invariably remains the superior movie. That said, Evan Rachel Wood is impeccable at playing a total bitch-on-wheels, despite her role as the film’s protagonist slightly underdeveloped. Wood creates a character so chaotic she is powerful yet exposed, corrupt yet seductive and at times admirable but never likeable.
Kimberley’s Father is a bigot and her Stepmother young enough to be her sister, together the ultimate teen-angst archetypes, painting the picture of a stormy home life emblematic of the pathetic fallacy to follow. Issues of sex, race, gender identity, misogyny and intolerance all arise throughout the film, made uncomfortable by the script’s dependency on too much black comedy, masking the narrative as mean spirited as opposed to overtly funny. The purposely outrageous and provocative tone of the main characters starts to become monotonous through their refusal to develop or change which feels frustrating given the potential of the story.
Now, back to Kimberley framing her teacher for sexual harassment, which alone as a sentence is chaos enough. Her teacher, Mr. Anderson, played by Ron Livingston (who you might recognise as Berger from Sex and The City and who famously dumped Carrie with a post-it-note), is set up by Kimberley and her token best friends, Brittany and Randa who condemn him for sexual harassment, effectively creating a downpour of controversy around the school. Local Lesbian news reporter, Emily Klein catches wind of the allegations and sweeps in to cover the report. While getting the story, she becomes intimate with Kimberly (who is well versed in the powers of sexual manipulation), who secretly films the rendezvous in order to gain hard, blackmail evidence against her when the truth behind her actions begin to circulate. The exposure makes Kimberley a tabloid darling, ringmaster of the Beverley Hills entertainment arena that relishes in shallow gossip and superficiality.
Pretty Persuasion takes no prisoners in amassing its great wreckage, unabashedly featuring scenes that use porn, blackmail, anal sex, paedophilia, racist language and bulimia to get what it wants. Some of the film’s targets are on the mark, addressing real life issues in a fictionally ridiculous manner, whilst other jokes manage to just miss the post: perhaps a little too clever for their own good. Though not a perfect movie, the film is good fun and does offer one piece of solid advice to those still navigating those tumultuous teenage years: sometimes playing the main character isn’t worth it.