A Review of Precious

The Oscar nominees get released on Tuesday, so I will officially have a “to watch” list. But there are some films that were nominated but slipped through my own mental cracks. Let’s start with Precious. Despite the great acclaim that greeted the film, I simply never got around to watching it.

That is a weak lead off, I know.  But then, what can I say that people have not heard? I already feel like the guy who shows up to the night club at 3:30, reviewing this film. But it is still a movie that needs to be responded to. There were some logical lapses that the film has about its own world. But then again, it is so captivating that its flaws can be easily overlooked.

The film takes place some time in the 1980s. An illiterate teenager named Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) lives in Harlem with her psychotic mother (Mo’Nique, who really needs to get read of that silly apostrophe. Oh well, she won an Oscar for this movie, so I doubt she cares about bizarre punctuation choices her parents made). Precious has also had a child, the result of a rape her father committed. She’s pregnant again (via the same method) and is understandably a wreck. At the beginning of the film, she is transferred to an alternate school where the teacher actually fosters Precious’ desire for a better life. But Precious’ mother constantly berates  her (physically and verbally) and seems to think it is more important for the family to get the welfare check than for Precious to get an education. At these times, Precious mentally retreats into….some sort of fantasy world in which Precious is a super model dating famous actors.

The movie is exquisitely done, I will grant it that. It is also one of the most emotionally affecting movies I have seen. In fact, some of the moments of Precious’ fantasy world are downright creative. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Precious imagines herself and her mother in an Italian neorealism film that is on TV, following an argument about Precious’ cooking. The dialogue from the film is replaced with the speech from their argument, and it becomes quite bizarre to watch (the film is apparently Two Women, directed by the legendary Vittorio De Sica. There’s a link worth exploring between this film and Italian neorealism, but that’s something for another day).

Actually, those fantasy moments are the best part of the film, and actually help the film evolve beyond a Lifetime movie. Most of the film is the typical formula – Precious in school, Precious at home dealing with her mother, Precious talking to a social worker and narrating about her own private hell. But then, every so often, the film cuts away to these brief interludes of Precious working as a super model and being admired by everyone she meets. At first, these interludes bothered me because none of them seemingly meant anything. But then, I accepted them more as Precious spoke about her wishes and her life. An illiterate woman like her would probably not be able to sustain complex fantasies for very long. But they were just as important to her as anyone’s  dreams would be.

You’ll note in the preceding paragraph that I referred to Lifetime movies. That is the biggest challenge I had about this film. Precious is a character seemed very unrealistic, and her situation seem so tailor-made that I could not help but think that she was created by an author just so he could put her through hell. I can’t really describe any of the other scenes because none of them stand out for any reason. Well, except for the scenes featuring Mo’Nique, but she is such a loathsome character who does such despicable things (like throwing Precious’ newborn baby) that giving them time almost feels like giving them too much publicity. Everything else is very standard, though – the only reason I remember some of the other characters is because celebrity musicians played them.

That artificiality was the same problem I had with The Help – it seemed equally as artificial in its approach. But then again, unlike that film, Precious is content just to show you the character and her world – it’s up to the audience to take away meaning. That’s how all art should be, but most directors today are content in their own pretentiousness. Precious director Lee Daniels managed to avoid it. Even those scenes I thought were not exactly groundbreaking they work, in the context of the film. That’s the most I can ask for – some people don’t even do that.

There’s really nothing more to say about it. The film sets out to create a portrait of a teenager on the brink of self-destruction, and it succeeds. It does not matter that the film does not seem very realistic; it’s too emotionally involving for that. In short, Precious is damn good, so go see it if you haven’t.

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