Monday, December 28, 2009

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire **1/2

Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe, Mo'Nique
Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz

"Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" is the kind of movie that would get made at an NGO to encourage donations for the issues it features. Like those movies it would choose a harrowing topic mostly unknown, or ignored, by society and then invite audiences to make a change.
It would be like a documentary of sorts because it would draw its inspiration from real life, but concentrate on the more dramatic elements to achieve its purpose and very much like those movies, it would never be meant for the people featured in it.
In this movie we have the tragic story of an overweight, illiterate sixteen year old from Harlem called Precious (Sidibe), she's recently been impregnated by her father for the second time and suffers constant verbal and physical abuse from her domineering mother Mary (Mo'Nique).
Precious escapes from her world by daydreaming and seeing herself as a famous entertainer. Things get better for her when she starts going to an alternative school where she becomes her teacher, Ms. Rain's (Patton) protegee.
Set in the late 1980's the movie features a remarkable sense of environment and subtly introduces subjects like AIDS and the slow, but steady liberation of homosexuality.
But as liberal as the movie wants to be, its director grounds it on values that only appeal to the most conservative crowds (again, people who would provide hefty tax free paychecks to the charities the movie asked them to).
It makes Precious and Mary extreme African American stereotypes that spend their time eating pig's feet and fried chicken.
"You plan on putting some food in that frying pan?" asks Mary more concerned with the fried than the food part.
And when Precious spends a day with Ms. Rain which she reveals to be something like they would do on television, she does so by relinquishing her personal biases after she learns that Ms. Rain isn't only a smart saint, but also a lesbian.
This preaching of faux liberal values as the ultimate savior would've reduced the movie to complete cliché if it wasn't for the work of its amazing ensemble.
Sidibe is a natural talent who inhabits this young woman with no regards to how even the screenplay mocks her. She makes Precious ignorant, but willing to learn and dying for the kind of love even she would agree she doesn't know.
While Mo'Nique's monstrous Mary is the work of someone fully compromised with her character, not so much in the uglification as in the attitude; watching her stroke her wig while she dances in her living room is a perverse spectacle not because of her hairy armpits and disdainful unkempt self, but because she doesn't even care about them.
Hard as they try though, Daniels is almost working against them, making Mary throw Precious a television set (only to realize later what she'd done and be sorry for the TV not her daughter) and leaving the black people with lighter skin tones (Patton, Kravitz and Carey) to do the rescuing.
Daniels major problem is his confusion regarding character development and audience expectation. He tries to make Precious a neorealist heroine (quite literally in a scene where she imagines herself as a character in "Two Women" complete with Italian lines and English subtitles) when she has already mentioned that she can't even follow Ms. Rain because she talks like people from TV channels she doesn't watch, which again makes the whole "Two Women" episode bizarre because that would be one of those channels.
This isn't a movie about Precious, this is a movie about what Daniels thinks Precious would think of herself and as such it seems he's the one who has issues to deal with.


Michael Parsons said...

AHHHHGGGGG!!! Read the book!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Hee? I love this review! God I'm horrible. I did give it a B, but you're right about much.

Jose said...

Well Michael if a movie demands I read the book it was based on to be coherent, then it's just not a very good movie right?
They are supposed to be different mediums and sometimes what doesn't work on paper has to be altered for film. I don't think everyone who saw Lord of the Rings had to read the books to "get" it.

Thanks Andrew! I read your review as well and I agree with a lot of points you make, you're not horrible, I too felt kinda guilty for not liking it like everyone says I should. The B seemed a bit high for how you talked about it though. Also I can't seem to be able to leave any comments in your site, I always get an error message.

Michael Parsons said...


Anyway I disagree (aside from the performances) but then I have a different opinion about stereotypes (I like panasonic) in general - I do not see them as a negative way of characterizing someone. I mean they wouldn't be a stereotype if people didn't live up to them.

Also growing up where I did I have know a few Precious' as very sadly a few Marys as well - so the film had a very personal message for me.

Anyway...harping on a bit much now. Hope you had an amazing Christmas.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

So weird that Michael says that. I know a few Precious[es] so maybe the shock factor that Daniels wanted to harp on didn't work on me. Or maybe I'm just not prone to shock. Ah well.

I don't know what it is with the comment window, you're one a few who have told me. I'll go change it. Thanks for commenting, well trying to :)

Jose said...

I don't have a problem with the stereotypes per se, I love Rupert Everett in "My Best Friend's Wedding" and Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls" even if they exploit stereotype to the ultimate level.
My problem is Daniels' condescension towards Precious and Mary because of their stereotypes.
The film feels like if he's judging them from his magnificent ivory tower and proclaiming he's better than them.
I too know many cases like Precious', I worked for an NGO that dealt with HIV and I was witness to some horrendous stories of abuse and violence, there's a million stories like hers' and while I think it's great that people who have no idea cases like these exist start opening up their eyes, I don't think that Daniels holds the key to making a change.

Cool Andrew! Hope you fix it soon.

Oh and hope both of you have a fantastic New Year.

Michael Parsons said...

Strange how I saw it like Daniels was looking up to Precious and merely observing Mary. Must be something in the water