Sunday, November 15, 2009

De-Precious-ing: 1987 Harlem's seedy underbelly


I'm conflicted on this movie. That's the best I can say. Did I enjoy watching the movie? Not really. Do all movies have to be entertaining or enjoyable to watch? I'm not sure. There are movies that are made to provoke thought or even for just artistic purposes, but there has to be something to keep a movie moving forward, and I guess that's what was missing for me with Precious. Precious is a movie about transformation, but I can't say that the transformation is enough for me to call it a "triumph of the human spirit" and other inspiring taglines being attached to this film. I'll start at the beginning and try to work through my thoughts as best as possible.

The full title of this movie is:
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

My immediate reaction to this is that if you have to bring the original subject material into the title of the movie, perhaps it worked better in its original form. I haven't read "Push" so I can't comment on that aspect, but this movie does seem like something that would work extremely well as a novel and loses something in its translation to film. The characters never felt complete to me, with the exception of Paula Patton's Ms. Rain, Precious' encouraging, inspirational teacher and the storyline seems to go down several promising roads but stops abruptly before seeing any of them through. In short, despite the fact that this entire film seems to be building towards its end, that payoff didn't seem worth it. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not quite sure what the climax of the film was supposed to be. It felt like a jumble of scenes somewhat haphazardly put together.

The plot is quite simply watching Claireece Precious Jones go from a completely miserable, horrifying existence to a less miserable, less horrifying existence. There will be spoilers in this paragraph so if you want to see it fresh, stop reading now, and skip to the next paragraph. Claireece, who simply goes by Precious, is a 16 year old who is still in junior high school (due to her illiteracy) pregnant for the second time by her (presumably) drug addicted father, has a mother who is worse than almost any villain seen this year (including Hans Landa) and whose only hope is enrollment in an alternative school, when she's kicked out of school for being pregnant. In the course of the movie she gets thrown to the ground while pregnant, has a television thrown at herself and her newborn from several flights of stairs up, becomes homeless and is given a guaranteed death sentence. Is it wrong of me that I can't find the inspiration quite so easily? This often feels like an exercise in sheer human will, on the part of Precious to survive and on the part of the audience to stick with it. There are scenes of borderline disgust, usually focusing on food, and Precious' self-loathing is apparent from the opening line. As if to add insult to injury, Precious' down-syndrome child (the character who illicited the most sympathy from the audience I was watching with) is cruelly named "Mongo" short for "mongoloid".

I feel like this is probably an important story to tell but that, perhaps, there was a better way to tell it. The Oscar buzz has been heavily centered on Mo'Nique whose performance as Mary, Precious' welfare obsessed, abusive, angry, hateful "mother" (if that what you can call a woman who simply gives birth and then allows her child to be abused from the age of 3 because she's jealous that her pedophile boyfriend preferred her daughter to herself) is certainly a departure for the comedienne. I don't agree with this assumption. Mary is more of a 1 dimensional horror show and by the time you get to what's supposed to be her redemptive monologue, I just didn't care what came out of her mouth because I assumed she was lying, despite her tears. The performance that should be celebrated, as stated above, is Paula Patton. Her portrayal of Ms. Rain and the actresses that are Precious' classmates become the heart and soul of this movie, perhaps even more than Precious herself.

There were moments where I did feel emotionally engaged, but they were few and far between. For the fact that I shed any tears at all, and for the saving performances of the alternative education crew, I'm giving this 3 out of 5, but I can't entirely endorse the buzz.

Overall: 3 out 5 composition books



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