In the black-hearted Pretty Persuasion, Evan Rachel Wood is a more sophisticated version of the promiscuous brat she played in Thirteen. It's an astonishingly bold performance by this talented young actress, but indie director Marcos Siega drains all the life from the story by being just as cool and calculating as his junior femme fatale. In the end this supposed satire doesn't say anything much except that people are mostly bad and parents are, like, the worst.
For the first half hour, Siega draws us into the warped world of 15-year-old Kimberley and the Beverley Hills high school that is her fiefdom. Wood is given some deliciously bitchy monologues to sink her teeth into, but screenwriter Skander Halim takes far too long getting to the point. That is, Kimberly manipulates her friends into backing her up on an accusation of sexual assault against one of her teachers (a very creepy Ron Livingston).
Kimberley is desperate for attention since she gets none from her father (played with irredeemable foulness by James Woods). One scene where he indulges in phone sex with his mistress exemplifies the carelessness of the script and the direction. The characters aren't flawed people, they're just gross caricatures and so the terrible deeds they commit inspire revulsion instead of evoking tragedy. Playing a meek Arab student, Schnall is offered as the innocent victim to inspire our sympathy. But innocence is taken to the point of total stupidity so again you're left feeling cold. Ugly is the word that best sums it all up.