Pretty Persuasion

Wow, a comedy that’s smart and funny? I must have died and gone to 1939! Pretty Persuasion is sort of Mean Girls if that movie was written by people who respected your intelligence and had some sense of the ethical maturity of actual teenagers. Evan Rachel Wood is perfectly nuanced as Kimberly Joyce, a super-intelligent 15-year-old whose dalliance with back-door loving sets in motion a chain of events that leads to scandal, death and fame, which is almost exactly how she planned it. James Woods is also great as her father, a man whose cultural sensitivity is matched only by his anti-Semitism and love of drug-fueled phone-sex with underage women. And Ron Livingston, who ruled Office Space, does a complex turn as a high school teacher who is falsely accused of sexually molesting his students, while nonetheless harboring a desire to sexually molest his students. What really sets Pretty Persuasion apart, though, is the moral complexity of the ending: The emotional consequences of evil are clearly shown, but not in a way that ties up loose ends, teaches any of the characters a lesson or treats the audience like idiots who need everything explained. For that reason alone, Pretty Persuasion is my pick for most commercially suicidal film of the year. And also, one of the best.

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