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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
"The devil wears a grey skirt, my friend, and her name is Kimberly Joyce."
DVD ReviewIf you're going to make a comedy about a bunch of idiots, bigots, racists, and stone cold sociopaths, you better make damn sure what comes out of their mouths is funny enough to justify spending time with them. Pretty Persuasion, a downright nasty independent effort from director Marcos Siega, is notable in that it is a dark satire with perhaps the most offensive, unpleasant cast of characters in recent memory, and there's not a single laugh in the entire picture.
Here is yet another story about a ruthless mean girl, Kimberly Joyce (the lovely Evan Rachel Wood), who attends an exclusive Beverly Hills prep school and schemes to become rich and famous. An aspiring actress and a certified genius (she "broke the computer" while taking an IQ test), Kimberly has figured out how to manipulate the system—mass media, the courts, her friends—into giving her exactly what she wants (though I would hope someone so smart would aim higher than a recurring role on an O.C.-style teen soap). With the help of dim-witted, good-hearted pal Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois) and Randa (Adi Schnall), a Muslim girl ignorant of the ways of the Western world (she's equally puzzled by a porno movie and a Twinkie), she figures out a plan to accuse a bumbling English teacher (Ron Livingston) of sexual assault and reap the rewards as a victim in the national news.
There are many targets in Skander Halim's screenplay—indifferent parents, lascivious school teachers, exploitative mass media—but none of his jabs hit the mark. The story is unfocused, trying at first to shock, then to offer insight, and accomplishing neither, frankly. Kimberly's anti-Semitic father (a seemingly shameless James Woods) can spew all the stereotyped Nazi-speak he wants, but it's nothing I haven't heard before. And while I suppose having Kimberly repeatedly ask her stepmother if she, ahem, has carnal knowledge of the canine variety might raise some eyebrows, it isn't going to make anyone laugh. Basically, the script is South Park, minus the ruthless, straightedge satire and any and all actual humor.
Director Marcos Siega can't quite get a handle on the material, and the film veers from absurdity (a teacher allowing a student to fake masturbation onstage during a high school play rehearsal) to pathos (a suicide late in the film that I think is supposed to be tragic) without doing either particularly well. He paints a pretty picture, and there are plenty of nicely composed images, but they feel like pretentious posing and serve only to slow an already leaden pace (the plot doesn't really kick in until the 30-minute mark). A fractured timeline should inject some suspense, but while the effort is appreciated, there's no there, there.
Evan Rachel Wood, who was achingly real in Thirteen, seems lost as Kimberly. She's fine in any given scene, but doesn't seem to get a handle on the character, though that's probably not really her fault. Ron Livingston plays the dirty old man role well enough, but it's a thankless part (Selma Blair plays his wife, but it's more a cameo than anything else).
After laughing at Mean Girls and Saved!, maybe I was expecting too much from Pretty Persuasion, but there's a fine line between comedic satire and outright racism, and, well, I don't exactly remember laughing.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Pretty Persuasion is colorful and nicely composed, and looks crisp and clean on DVD. This anamorphic transfer shows great detail and features deep blacks, minus obtrusive grain or edge enhancement.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: There isn't much more to Pretty Persuasion than dialogue, and the included DD 5.1 mix presents it well enough, anchored in the center channel. That said, the track's volume level is a little low, and even with the sound turned up, I had some trouble understanding some of Evan Rachel Wood's dialogue, especially early on. Whether her speech was muffled by background noise or she was just trying some kind of accent, I honestly don't know, but I had to strain to hear it, and that's never good. Otherwise, the mix is filled out a bit by the score, but that's about it.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Gospel, Oliver Twist, Into the Blue, Sueño, Saved!, The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Extras Review: Pretty Persuasion doesn't make much of a case for itself on DVD—the disc is devoid of extras, save for trailers for The Gospel, Oliver Twist, Into the Blue, Sueño, Saved!, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose .
I may as well harp on the packaging people for flat-out giving away what is supposed to be a "twist" in the latter part of the film in a neat, two-sentence plot summary.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA satirical misfire that tries to be profane and profound in equal measure, Pretty Persuasion winds up a dull, muddled mess, with characters too grotesque to care about when the time comes. I never thought I'd say this about a Lindsay Lohan vehicle, but there's more intelligence in Mean Girls than in this mean-spirited, self-satisfied indie effort.
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