Sunday, October 4, 2009

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

"Precious" can be at times a brutal and unrelenting film, and this is where it has strength. There's a sort of gritty realism shared by this film and by Steve McQueen's "Hunger"; also, both involve a sort of prison. Precious' (Gabby Sidibe, in a good debut) is her own house, where her terrifying mother Mary lives. Mary is played by Mo'Nique, in one of the most startling, outstanding performances of our time. She gives two powerful monologues, one consisting almost entirely of expletives and insults, and one in defense of her self. Both are immeasurably effective, and on these alone I will go as far as to say she should garner an Oscar nomination. But it's a completely horrific performance, especially since you don't know whether or not her tremendous wrath will be incited and to what extent.

Anyways, Precious is abused (the target of flower pots and frying pans thrown by Mary) and abused (impregnated two times via her father) and wants better, although she won't ever let anyone help her. But when her school principal (Nealla Gordon) gives her the address for an alternate school, she goes on it. And she meets the most inspiring person she could, a teacher known as Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). And here's where everything goes into a whirlwind.

Whereas (nearly) everything in the sections at home was grounded, realistic, and well-done, in the Each One Teach One scenes control is lost. It becomes much more cliche, and it takes on the face of one of those inspiring films. Not that there's anything wrong with that in itself, but here it looks a little amateurish after the grit of the first half. I guess it's supposed to be a contrast between abuse and good, but couldn't it be a little better done? At the New York Film Festival screening I attended last night (one in which the film was started 45 minutes late and multiple times protesting claps and boos were overheard), director Lee Daniels said the cops were running after them while the film was being shot. Could this be one of the negative results of that?

Well, I should mention the other supporting characters in the film. Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) is a welfare person, and while she probes Precious for a long time, she can't get the full picture about what's going on within that household until a climactic scene that has to be one of the most moving and yet most appalling in a while. And, of course, there's Nurse John, who is interesting to watch because of who's playing him (I won't mention names), even though he's in perhaps the film's weakest section. All in all, I think "Precious" the film isn't a very good contender for any awards, even though the buzz is overflowing (Sundance and Toronto audience awards). The editing saps a lot of the power out, and the scenes of inspiration are dreamy yet take up a large block of the time. But it does contain a fantastic supporting performance, one that's worthy of all the acclaim it gets. B


Laughing Stars said...

I've read about this movie, and I am very intrigued by it. Thanks for your balanced review. And I love the fact that you attend film festivals. I'm a little jealous -- missing out on those things is one of the disadvantages of living in the back of nowhere. ;-) The scenery is lovely here, though.

aspergiansarah said...

Hey. Does it show the main girl getting raped by her father? if so, is it graphic?

I'm not squeamish when it comes to violence but I have trouble with too much sexual assault packed into one movie.

"Stir of Echoes" nearly made me sick. If it isn't too brutal, I'd like to see it. It looks pretty good, judging from the preview.

Nick Duval said...

In a word, yes. The scenes are brief but very intense and pretty disturbing. If you can get past these, it's a worthwhile film. Sexual abuse is a theme throughout, so if you can't take that, I would stay away. Neither of the scenes is longer than 15-20 seconds, but are intense every second. But I got through it fine.

--- nick