Decent Script. Bad Director. That should have been the title of “Pretty Persuasion”. I say decent, and not good, because this film is basically a re-hash of all the teen angst flicks we’ve seen that involve anything dark, twisted, or weird in any way. Think if Wes Anderson remade Donnie Darko. Or, better, a hybrid of “Election” and “Wild Things”. Even still, if the writers of Heathers got together with the producers of Jawbreaker, and they wrote a teen movie about screwed up kids and black humor. That would be something pretty close to “Pretty Persuasion”. If you take into consideration that you have a fairly talented cast and an unoriginal, but clever, script, it’s plain to see that Marcos Siego is not up to the job of quirky, quick-wittedness. The video and TV director made “Pretty Persuasion” as a first film. It shows.
Usually it’s too much fun to pass up a dark comedy involving teenagers and sex. Though there can be serious misses (I’m not talking in the ballpark of Cruel Intentions, or anything…) it’s usually an amusing genre, if trite and empty. Seeing teenagers use their massive intelligence to destroy those around them for money/fame/love/hate or any other reason is not an original concept, and if not done well, the film can end up being another “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen”, and nobody wants that.
Evan Rachel Wood plays a 15-year-old genius with a high IQ, a quaintly dysfunctional family, and a hidden agenda. Her best friend Brittany, along with a new foreign exchange student named Randa, begin to loathe Mr. Anderson, their English teacher, for singling them out for punishment. They devise a plan so evil it could only be a carbon-copy of the plot of “Wild Things” in order to punish Mr. Anderson. Unfortunately, everyone comes out hurt in the end, not just Mr. Anderson. There, have we all learned our lesson?
There are so many interesting characters to work with here, and they are never used to their full potential. The sarcastic and talented Ron Livingston plays Mr. Anderson as an obsessive assholish dork. It’s perfect. Unfortunately we get to see Mr. Anderson’s quirks and personality for a combined total of maybe ten minutes in the film. The rest of the time Livingston is totally thrust aside, his ability to maneuver comedy into even the most lame of dialogue is not developed. (And if it had been, the laughs would have come more often). Evan Rachel Wood is a semi-talented actress whose main assets are her looks. She does play cold-hearted very well, but she has trouble in the beginning of the film; she’s not good at playing shallow. Tears come to her easily and she can be angry and upset. But there is never a real glimpse of the girl behind the pedestrian dialogue written for her character in many of the less dramatic scenes. James Woods is over-the-top and sometimes sets the tone of the film in a completely different direction than where it had been before. His unbelievable performance (as in, “I didn’t believe a word of it”) is really funny and energetic, but he lacks the connection to the other characters onscreen. The hidden gem is the upbeat and bitchy Jane Krakowski as a local news reporter getting the scoop of a lifetime. She indulges the audience in smartness and delivery that is worthy of a segment on “The Daily Show”.
So what is it about “Pretty Persuasion” that just doesn’t click? The script seems solid enough, though it’s the same rehashing of the old “Teenagers are scary” idiom. The lack of focus on the direction of the story leaves the course a little skewed, and the funny scenes are never really THAT funny, and the dramatic scenes are never really THAT sad. This movie doesn’t bite. It doesn’t create anything. It’s not a masterpiece. But it is funny. It is entertaining, and if you like all that “Clueless” gone bad crap, then you’ll enjoy.
Why teenagers are constantly shown in either adult roles (like in “Pretty Persuasion”, where sex and deception are normal business to a 15-year-old) or ridiculously childish ones (pick any movie with Lindsay Lohan or Hilary Duff in it) is beyond me. There are horrors beyond court cases, trials, and murder that consume the everyday of the average rich, spoiled, highly intelligent teenager in Beverly Hills.