By Heidi Martinuzzi | January 26, 2005

“Pretty Persuasion” kills itself with unrestrained negativism, but almost resuscitates itself with some great comedy. Unfortunately, the story of seductive and manipulated high school students tries to be a little too dark for its own good, focusing on its characters’ evil qualities and ignoring any trace of humanity.

Evan Rachel Wood stars as Kimberly Joyce, a brilliant private high school student who takes pleasure in manipulative seduction and concocts a plot to hurt many, many people by accusing their teacher, Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston), of sexual harassment. The film leaves whether they personally try to get the teacher attracted to them in the beginning to question, but the definite theme is that because the world is so awful with its media circuses and consumerism, Kimberly is an evil bitch who uses her schoolgirl sex appeal to torment men—which I guess makes her one level worse that Britney Spears, who uses it to make money. All the confusion and frustration of high school hardly factors in, and the least successful parts of the film are the attempts to show an inner sadness.

The most successful moments are the comedic ones, with subtle details and sharp gags. Danny Comden single-handedly elevates every scene he’s in as Mr. Anderson’s friend and colleague who teaches law and passed the bar nine years ago and assumes he can defend his friend. But he bases his courtroom technique on what he’s seen in movies. This lampooning of the courtroom scene serves as a reminder that movies can be biting and funny, instead of simply spiteful.

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