Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Film Review: Precious

Let me say first off that I am recommending that you see this film. I want to say that right from the beginning because I intend to spend the next several paragraphs explaining in some detail why I did not like it.

There are two reasons for which I will recommend this film, directed by Lee Daniels, producer of Monster’s Ball. First, this is a picture you must decide upon yourself. Second, I am saying this at the beginning because there will be spoilers after this point, and if you intend on seeing it, what I next write will ruin whatever mystery exists.

***spoilers after here***

If you don’t know the story, it is about a teenage girl, Precious, played by Gabourey Sidibe, who suffers mental, physical, and sexual abuse almost constantly. There are a male nurse, a social worker, and a lesbian teacher who reach out to Precious and inspire her to rise above her difficulties.

Sounds good on paper, right? When I saw the first trailer, I had heard that the movie was amazing (“inspiring” and “hopeful” were words thrown around in abundance in descriptions of Precious), but I feared it would not rise above the level of so many other “inner-city-youth-meets-inspiring-teacher” stories. After seeing it, I can say that it is so much worse.

This is not for lack of trying. I will say that the acting here is superb. Mo’Nique is as good as you may have heard as the abusive mother. Sidibe is pitch-perfect as the nominal Precious. And, the supporting caricatures (oops, I mean characters) come out as good as can be expected, as Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, and Lenny Kravitz do everything they can to salvage the empty shells they have been given.

This movie really had a chance, and the first half looks to be going places. However, the second half of the film fails to resolve any of the key conflicts in a believable, satisfying, or appropriate way.

At the end, the abusive, sociopath Mary, who has unrelentingly inflicted abuse upon her daughter for nearly two hours on screen, shows compassion and gives Precious her down syndrome afflicted daughter back to her. Does anybody ask why? I know I could not tell you.

For the first few moments of the sequence, I waited for Precious to snap out of one of her many fantasy sequences. It didn’t happen, and mother Mary’s solid character arc quickly became a character plummet. When it crash landed, so did the film.

After this incident, Precious, née Clareece Precious Jones, carries her babies out of the social worker’s office and triumphantly walks on to her new and better life. This is the “hope” of which those other reviews are speaking. Did I mention that minutes before this Precious confirmed that she is HIV positive? What of that? I may be missing the point, but I see no reason to hope for this girl’s future.

Add to all of this the fact that as bad as a movie like The Blind Side is at depicting race relations this film goes above and beyond that (or is it below and beyond?). Allow me to share with you what I learned about African Americans from watching Precious: they are illiterate, animalistic, sexually deviant, HIV carriers who laze about and sponge off of the welfare rolls. As hard as Daniels tries to depict the real world of poverty-stricken African Americans, all I see are harmful, demeaning racial stereotypes paraded around as some sort of grotesque sideshow reality.

The film has divided the critical community and has some high profile supporters and detractors. It is apparent that this is not a case of whether or not this is a good film (I argue that it is not). This is a matter of taste. So, in that spirit, I encourage you to see Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and report back. If it is to your taste, tell me why.

See it? Yes.

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