DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Pretty Persuasion

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Aaron Silverman, Dec 16, 2005.

Tags:
  1. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 1999
    Messages:
    11,195
    Likes Received:
    763
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Florida
    Real Name:
    Aaron Silverman
    [​IMG]
    Pretty Persuasion[​IMG]

    US Theatrical Release: August 12, 2005 (Sony Pictures)
    US DVD Release: December 13, 2005
    Running Time: 1:49:45 (28 chapter stops)
    Rating: R (For strong sexual content and graphic dialogue involving teens, and language)
    Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
    Audio: English DD5.1
    Subtitles: English, French
    TV-Generated Closed Captions: English
    Menus: Not animated
    Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert features cover images of other Sony titles.
    MSRP: $24.96

    THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 2/5

    Teen comedies don't get much darker than Pretty Persuasion. In fact, it's a bit of a stretch to even call it a comedy. It does have its funny moments, but they feel shoehorned into a story whose core consists of truly grim events. This is one of those films that are focused on an antihero with thoroughly bad intentions. That said, there are times when it seems to want the viewer to feel sympathy for its protagonist, which clashes with her actions nearly as much as the comedic parts do.

    Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) is a 15-year-old student at an elite Beverly Hills private school. When we first meet her, she is auditioning for the part of a nubile French exchange student on a vapid sitcom. This is the first hint that she is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. Once she gets to school, she seems relatively normal, but there are hints of a passive-aggressive streak. She befriends a new student, Randa (Adi Schnall), a shy Palestinian girl who takes her traditional head covering seriously even as she reaches that age when most teens tend to question the things they've been brought up to believe. But we soon sense that Kimberly's friendship is not as innocent as it initially appears, as she decides to list, in order, the races she'd like to be if she weren't White. Middle Eastern brings up the rear of this list. Guileless Randa isn't quite sure what to make of that, but she is glad to have someone to hang out with.

    Next, we are introduced to Kimberly's best friend Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois), a blonde with a studly boyfriend, Troy (Stark Sands). Judging from the way Kimberly looks at them from afar, it is very obvious that this situation is trouble waiting to happen. It turns out that this was formerly Kimberly's beau. She tells Brittany that she has no problem with her seeing him, and Brittany remains happily oblivious to her true feelings. Of course, if it's not obvious to her that Kimberly's not going to let it slide, it's quite clear to the film's audience.

    Things take a turn in a different direction, however, as Kimberly has bigger fish to fry. The girls' English and Drama teacher, Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston), gives them no end of grief, and is rather creepy to boot. He clearly has inappropriate thoughts regarding his young students, which has given him a certain reputation around the school, although it's not clear whether he's ever actually acted on them. And if the creepy way he looks at the girls wasn't enough, the film makes absolutely sure that the audience squirms by having him not very subtly dress his wife (Selma Blair) in an outfit resembling the girls' uniforms.

    Detention for Kimberly and Randa, along with a very bizarre incident involving Brittany during a Drama Club rehearsal, convinces the girls that it's time to get their revenge on Mr. Anderson. Together, they bring a serious public accusation against him (which really isn't so far-fetched) that immediately explodes into a media circus. We wonder not only whether he did it, but also whether the girls are truly of one mind, or if Kimberly is just using her friends to swell her own publicity.

    For the most part, Pretty Persuasion is very dark, with some characters who evoke sympathy but none who are really likeable. Most of it is played straight, with an almost noir-ish atmosphere. But sometimes, it desperately wants to be funny. Really, really desperately. This usually occurs when Kimberly's father Hank (James Woods) appears on screen. His bizarre behavior and bigoted ranting are completely over the top. And while it's so wacky that it's clearly being played for laughs, it also appears to be intended as some explanation (excuse?) for Kimberly's sociopathic behavior.

    And "sociopathic" is the word for it. Kimberly's actions go way beyond funny teenage hijinks -- they are ruthless and evil. Unfortunately, the serious stuff clashes with the humor in the script. Now, humor certainly has its place in a dramatic story, but many of the gags here are thoroughly absurd. On top of Hank's antics, Anderson's court defense revolves around a theory suggested by his lawyer (a fellow teacher at the school) that is so ridiculous it seems to have snuck in from a Monty Python skit. The script often feels like it doesn't know which direction it wants to take, and ends up going back and forth in jarring ways. Sometimes it does this literally, with unnecessary flashbacks that bring the plot to a screeching halt. (At one point, it flashes back to the girls concocting a plot that anyone who's been to a movie before has already figured out every last detail of.) Another speed bump is Kimberly's boyfriend Barry (Mike Erwin), who pops onto the screen a couple of times with no apparent raison d'etre other than to relate some crude jokes.

    Pretty Persuasion is, unfortunately, a near miss. It has the seed of a good story, and the cast does a fine job, but it doesn't quite come together into a successful whole. The filmmakers needed to either lighten things up generally or replace the especially silly stuff. In addition, there are a few half-hearted attempts at evoking sympathy for Kimberly that just make things more uncomfortable. Another flaw, which is common to this sort of story, is that things are just a bit too easy for Kimberly. Her every move produces exactly the intended result, regardless of who needs to be manipulated. The least believable is an ambitious (aren't they all?) TV news reporter (Jane Krakowski), who seems especially weak when she falls victim to Kimberly's wiles.


    THE WAY I SEE IT: 4/5

    The image is very nice. It has good detail and very little in the way of artifacts. Blacks are solid and colors are realistic. There is some visible edge enhancement


    THE WAY I HEAR IT: 3.5/5

    The audio is clear and sounds good. However, it rarely ventures outside the center front channel. There is occasional ambience in the side channels, and a little bit of incidental music. The soundtrack gets the job done, but doesn't go much beyond that.


    THE SWAG: 0.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)

    Trailers

    When the disc is first inserted, the trailers for The Gospel and Sueno play automatically. They may be skipped.
    • The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2:30) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Oliver Twist (2:14) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • The Gospel (1:48) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic)
    • Sueno (2:20) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Into The Blue (2:15) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
    • Saved! (1:22) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)

    SUMMING IT ALL UP

    The Way I Feel About It: 2/5
    The Way I See It: 4/5
    The Way I Hear It: 3.5/5
    The Swag: 0.5/5


    Pretty Persuasion is not a bad film, but it doesn't quite succeed either. It's a bit too schizophrenic, juxtaposing silly humor with brutally nasty behavior. None of it is terribly subtle, either. But for those who enjoy it, the A/V presentation is pretty good. The lack of extra features is unfortunate, as it might have been interesting to hear from the filmmakers about why they made some of the choices they did.
     
  2. Ted Todorov

    Ted Todorov Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2000
    Messages:
    2,981
    Likes Received:
    28
    Trophy Points:
    1,610
    Can anyone tell me if this was cut on its way to an R-Rating? It wasn't rated in its theatrical release.

    Ted
     
  3. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The film was unrated when it played in New York in August 2005, and Stephen Holden so indicated in his review in the New York Times. However, the running time listed for the film in that review is the same as listed on the DVD. Either the producers persuaded the MPAA to give the film an R after its initial release, or the film was reedited in some fashion. I don't know whether anyone will ever be able to tell us, because the film had so few fans that probably no one will bother to find out.

    Holden was one of the few critics who liked it, and I was one of the few viewers. It's less of a traditional satire than a morality tale in the style of Neil LaBute -- a catalogue of terrible things that people do to each other. Because it's set in a high school (thereby setting up expectations for a teen comedy, which it most assuredly isn't), and because it's so gleefully over the top almost from the opening scene, it's certainly not a film with broad appeal. But if the idea of Your Friends and Neighbors or In the Company of Men played as farce appeals to you, this might too.

    If anyone knows the story behind the rating, please chime in.

    EDIT: Just found this note in Ebert's review dated August 26, which also lists the film as unrated:

    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/...VIEWS/50824001

    M.
     
  4. BarryS

    BarryS Second Unit

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2002
    Messages:
    424
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I liked this movie a lot. I'm a huge fan of dark teen comedies such as Heathers, Ghost World and Election so Pretty Persuasion was right up my alley. It's by far the darkest of the bunch, however. I understand that it's not to everone's (or even most people's) tastes. I also love Evan Rachel Wood and think she's one of the finest young actress around and she's excellent in this movie. The script is a bit uneven, but I think it works quite well overall. It does have its problems, but I really enjoyed this movie and found it equally hilarious and disturbing. Most people would probably be downright horrified by this movie, so I can certainly understand negative reviews.

    What I can't understand is how or why the director of this movie, Marcos Siega, chose to follow it up with the dreadful-looking Nick Cannon vehicle Underclassman.
     
  5. Dick

    Dick Producer
    Supporter

    Joined:
    May 22, 1999
    Messages:
    6,299
    Likes Received:
    2,323
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Maine
    Real Name:
    Rick
    Darn - I misread the header as "Pretty POISON" and got all excited. C'mon, Fox! Anyway, nice review, Aaron.
     
  6. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 1999
    Messages:
    11,195
    Likes Received:
    763
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Florida
    Real Name:
    Aaron Silverman
    Thanks, Dick!

    I agree with Michael that Neil LaBute is a good comparison. (I think that In The Company Of Men, a film that I liked but didn't love, would also have suffered if it had mixed in some of the overly silly humor that derailed this film.)

    As for the rating, I would guess that it simply hadn't been rated by the time of its initial release. While the material is disturbing, there really isn't anything in the film that would warrant anything heavier than an 'R'. There's no actual physical violence or nudity, and not all that much foul language either. The rough stuff is mostly thematic.
     
  7. BarryS

    BarryS Second Unit

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2002
    Messages:
    424
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    might have been too much for the MPAA.
     
  8. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Maybe that's all he was being offered at the time. As John Frankenheimer is supposed to have said: "You learn more from making a movie than from not making a movie."

    M.
     
  9. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 1999
    Messages:
    11,195
    Likes Received:
    763
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Florida
    Real Name:
    Aaron Silverman

    Now that you mention it, they actually showed the act, albeit very briefly.
     
  10. Joel C

    Joel C Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 1999
    Messages:
    1,633
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The fact that the movie strives to be shocking and dark isn't why I didn't like it. I felt the shocking elements weren't shocking, just crass attempts at being shocking, like when little kids swear to impress each other.

    I also though the story plodded so slowly to its foregone conclusion that it removed all possible humor or suspense, and then I got the feeling I was supposed to care about certain out of the blue events that I hadn't been given any reason to care about.

    I'm glad some people like it, though. Anyone want to trade something for the DVD? [​IMG]
     

Share This Page