Dark satire is one of Hollywood’s most difficult tasks. For every genuinely funny, smart film like Heathers there are at least a dozen smug, self-important misfires. Combining plot elements from Election and Wild Things, and trying in vain to capitalize on contemporary issues (sex scandals, Muslim-American relations, school shootings), Pretty Persuasion stumbles in its moralizing and ends up falling flat on its face.
Evan Rachel Wood, already taking herself way too seriously in her young career plays Kimberly Joyce, a smart, ambitious, but cruel-hearted, student at a prestigious private school in Beverly Hills. Neglected by her bigoted, pill-popping father (James Woods, diving into his role with sick glee) and seeking various revenges, Kimberly plots to set-up her English teacher (Ron Livingston) on dubious sexual harassment charges with the help of friends Britney and foreign student Randa in order to further their film careers.
Meaning to instruct on the corrupting influence of a culture overdosed on celebrity and scandal, director Marcos Siegal (credits include music videos for Blink 182 — it shows) and writer Skander Halim only serve up over-the-top caricatures and stilted jokes. Pretty Persuasion is the kind of film that mocks racism by putting into its characters’ mouths unrealistically overt slurs and lazily resorting to stereotypes. It’s the kind of film that never misses an opportunity to display its young female characters undressing even when it purports to send up the sex-obsessed media and prurient interest that keeps it afloat. It confuses satire with the exploitation of the basest, most obvious clichés, reveling in the superficiality it pretends to ridicule. This is “subversive” cinema for reactionaries.
Opens August 12