Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pretty Persuasion (2005)

f my husband and I have a "must-see" genre, it's the one where teenage girls do inappropriate things. Naturally, Pretty Persuasion was a must, with Evan Rachel Wood (from Thirteen) and a cover which boasts that "the devil wears a gray skirt."

So I have to admit that most of the films which fall into this "genre" are pretty bad. A guilty pleasure most of the time, right? This one's no exception, except most of the pleasure comes in the first half and most of the guilt should rest on the filmmakers for not bothering to follow through a naughty, though (remotely) plausible story with characterization that makes any sense whatsoever.

The set-up is great: there's a racist father; a neglected, very intelligent daughter; a blond best friend in love with first girl's ex; a new Muslim friend; and a teacher whose personal taste make him a prime target for three young students with revenge on their minds. This is all very interesting, as it addresses, for once, that there's something in between teachers being completely unaware of the sexual maturation of their students and teachers taking rampant advantage of them. Mr. Anderson is easy because he's already lusting after his female students; it's up to us to decide how villainous that really is.

The problems with the film start with the tone; I'm at home with black comedy, but there is a little too much swinging between extremes for me to get a handle on where exactly I'm supposed to be in my suspension of disbelief. Everyone does a good job; I especially liked Jane Krakowski as the lesbian reporter, though like everyone else she's lost some weight. Evan Rachel Wood has grown to much resemble Jenna Malone, the previously ubiquitous bad-girl. James Woods is appropriate disgusting, but Ron Livingston (as the teacher) is a little hammy, despite how much I admire him in Office Space. Again, it's the tone that's in question.

The real problem, without which the rest might be overlooked, is that Wood's character's opportunistic naughtiness, which reaches some pretty high levels, is never adequately explained. By the end of the film I felt that the only way a believable motive could possibly be supplied was if they suddenly revealed the girl was an alien. They give her vast reserves of resourcefulness to plot her revenge, but they don't sufficiently give her reason, and we the audience is left a little flat at the end, having to buy into her basic evil instead of a complex set of motivations. Even the school shooting, an obvious parallel running through the movie, is more interesting in its inexplicability. Surely a character with such superior talent should be granted a more interesting motive than schoolgirl jealousy.

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