"Far From Pretty"
What You Need To Know:
Despite clever direction and good acting, PRETTY PERSUASION quickly loses its appeal. Kimberly’s actions are not funny. She performs sexual favors for various boyfriends, then disposes them when she no longer needs them. She even uses this tactic on an openly lesbian reporter. There are few, if any, consequences for Kim’s actions and the sudden transformation from a cruel to a pitiable character is implausible. PRETTY PERSUAUSION tries to be a dark comedy with a significant social statement, but it falls flat and is simply wearisome and depressing. This movie is neither pretty nor persuasive.
(HH, PaPaPa, HoHo, FR, LLL, V, SSS, N, A, DD, MM) Strong humanist worldview about power-obsessed and self-serving people, mostly hedonistic, with strong homosexual subtext, including a relationship between a teenage girl and an adult reporter, as well as Muslim character is enticed into temptation by hedonistic teenage girl; 67 obscenities (37 "f" words) and nine profanities; girl shoots herself offscreen, committing suicide; numerous crude sexual jokes, teenage girl makes sex sounds at dinner table, accuses stepmother of having sex with her dog, three implied oral and anal sex scenes between teenagers, one homosexual oral sex scene between teenage girl and adult woman, some kissing, including numerous homosexual kisses, girl overhears father’s phone sex, graphic talk about sex and masturbation among teenagers, teenage girls watch porn film, male teacher fantasizes about teenage students while with wife, female student makes a pass at teacher, some suggestive dancing; upper male nudity, numerous scenes with women in bras and panties, girl’s father in underwear, teen takes shirt off to reveal bra in front of high school class; alcohol use; smoking, girl steals father’s cigars, illegal drug use, man gives daughter illegal drugs, daughter gives illegal drugs to dog; and, girls use blackmail, lying to get revenge on teacher, several offensive racial slurs and racist humor, and some immoral behavior subtly rebuked but not explicitly criticized.
In PRETTY PERSUASION, Evan Rachel Wood stars as the rich and relentless high school schemer Kimberly Joyce, whose strategy to jumpstart her acting career wreaks pandemonium on everyone around her. Kimberly attends a prestigious private academy in Beverly Hills, perfecting her art of switching from sweet and innocent schoolgirl to cruel and hardened teen. At home, Mr. Joyce (James Woods) is far from observant of Kimberly’s deceit. Absorbed in his work and sexual exploits, the only things he passes to his daughter are blatantly racist views.
When a teacher (played by Ron Livingston) angers her, Kimberly seizes the opportunity for revenge and for fame. She enlists two classmates to help, her naïve friend Brittany and a new Muslim student named Randa. Together, they accuse the teacher of molestation. Their timing is perfect, because a reporter (played by Jane Krakowski) is covering the school for a local news station. The assault case goes to trial, where Kimberly remains in control of every aspect. She effortlessly manipulates friends, reporters and the jury. Caring only of herself, Kim goes to great lengths to get what she wants. Not everything ends her way however, and the teenager is left with a disaster on her hands.
Despite clever direction and good acting, PRETTY PERSUASION quickly loses its appeal. The movie has a unique story-telling manner. The audience sees situations only as they are recalled from the perspective of different characters, so the viewer is never certain what is reality and what is the manipulated account of events. Even this likable style is overshadowed by the movie’s hopeless outlook on life as seen through Kimberly, her peers and her family. Kimberly’s actions are not funny. She performs sexual favors for various boyfriends until they have achieved their purpose, then she disposes of them. She even uses this tactic on the openly lesbian reporter Emily. These actions are never rebuked in the story.
The only reference to God or a higher moral authority is found in Randa, Kim’s Muslim friend. Her initial resistance to corruption is easily influenced by Kimberly, who introduces her to pornography, smoking, purging, and other disturbing habits. By the end of the movie, when Kim’s plan takes an unexpected and tragic turn, the audience is expected to sympathize with her. There are few, if any, consequences for Kim’s actions, however, and the sudden transformation from a cruel to a pitiable character is hard to believe, at the least.
PRETTY PERSUAUSION tries to be a dark comedy with a significant social statement. Its attempts at irony and humor fall flat so that the end product is wearisome and depressing. The social statement, whatever it is, is fatally muddled by trying to address too many subjects at once, leaving the audience at a loss for understanding. A hopeless outlook on life, and irresponsible and excessive sexual content, merely exacerbates the flaws. It is frightening that PRETTY PERSUASION will appeal to a teenage audience. This movie will instruct them to find humor in racist behavior, to use sex as a manipulative weapon and to achieve their personal goals at everyone else’s expense.
PRETTY PERSUASION is neither pretty nor persuasive.