Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Guilt For Not Loving This Movie

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

"Precious," with the clumsy subtitle of "Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," is the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe), an obese, illiterate 16-year-old black girl living in Harlem in 1987. Precious' mom (Mo'Nique) is a deadbeat who doesn't work and spends her days watching TV and screaming at her daughter while demanding she cook her food. Precious got raped by her father who impregnated her not once but twice, and her second baby is on the way. Here's material that produces a long, dark tunnel of despair, one that requires a light at the end of the journey. Director Lee Daniels' (a former producer whose credentials include "Monster's Ball") Sundance sensation disappoints in that it is a film that lacks a proper reward system. To put audiences through such grueling depravity without a glimmer of hope at the end goes against the definition of an uplifting experience. The goal of "Precious" was to drag you down into the depths of human cruelty and then pick you up again, except the latter part never happens. Nothing is resolved in the end.

Rather than allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions and feel their own naturally-evoked emotions, the movie twists their arms into empathy. In this respect, it is very calculated and constructed in drawing us down into Precious' depressing world. There's no room to properly observe and contemplate but rather just be forced to feel what the movie expects us to feel. This leaves for an ultimately unmoving experience, the exact opposite of what Daniels set out to do. Immediate empathy for Precious was the goal, but somehow I found my heartstrings not being tugged. I couldn't stop myself from thinking that Precious really should have given up her second child like her teacher suggested. Sometimes doing what you feel is most courageous to prove a point really isn't the best solution. Sure, there can be the hope that she continues her education while supporting her two children, but realistically I found Precious hard to root for.

Newcomer Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, 24, plays Precious, and she does an admirable job for a debut performance. She understands the character she is playing, and she gathers sympathy from Precious' teacher, Ms. Blu Rain (Paula Patton), and her social worker, Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey). From audiences, however, this isn't a role of sympathy but one of pity. Sidibe plays Precious with an emotionless mask, a passive shell of a human being. She doesn't look people in the eyes, and she mumbles when she talks. It's hard to connect with her. We only see flashes of her shining soul in fantasy sequences where she dreams of being a glitzy celebrity. These fantasies, however, feel odd and unfitting to the movie's overall tone, and we follow Precious throughout this journey that lacks a certain structure and consistency.

After getting kicked out of school, Precous gets directed to an alternative school where Ms. Blu Rain gets her started on a GED with other girls in similar situations. The classroom scenes don't shine any new light on the condition of inner-city teaching, and the constant return to them gets repetitive. The breakthrough in these sequences is Paula Patton as the lesbian, kind-hearted teacher Blu Rain who knows how to motivate Precious and break her out of her shield of armor she had been putting up all her life. Being inside this classroom is Precious' escape from the madness of the life she knew.

Precious also makes visits with Ms. Weiss, her social worker, who is played very effectively by an un-glamorized Mariah Carey. There is a final scene between Precious, her mother, Mary, and Ms. Weiss, a scene that will leave you shaken. And in this scene is Mo'Nique playing Precious' mother at her most extreme. She represents a pattern of abuse and cruelty that goes back generations where the root of her own evil is uncontrolled agony. She claims that Precious stole her man away from her, and she uses that as reason to exploit her daughter for welfare checks. Comedian Mo'Nique is absolute dynamite in a first-time dramatic performance that has her rightfully already on the track for Oscar consideration. If there's anything that saves "Precious," it's her shocking and powerful portrayal that puts a face on the monsters in this world.

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