Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

Things looks good for a morbidly obese, HIV positive 17 year old with two children, one of which has down syndrome, from the incestuous relationship with her father.

I believe that there are some unspoken rules about writing fiction. One of those rules is that you don't right a story like Precious unless you are basing it on a real person. I can't totally explain why I was so ticked off that the book and movie were nothing more than the creation of an author, but that fact caused the movie to be less than touching for you. Once you look past the obvious attempts to pull emotion out of the audience, Precious is, simply, an average movie with a few really good performances in it.

In what amounts to the typical white American's view of lower class black society, a fat black women sits at home and cheats the welfare system while she abuses her fat black daughter. The daughter, who is repeatedly raped by her father, has two children by him and is kicked out of school. Somewhere between escaping her awful family, having another baby and going to an alternative school, our main character, nicknamed "Precious", must find herself and become a woman. The film features some familiar faces, including Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey, and some brand new talent, Gabourey Sidibe as the lead. It's directed by Lee Daniels, only his second directorial effort, and managed an impressive showing at the Academy Awards, picking up two wins and four other nominations. The film was a critics darling and had the backing of African American powerhouses Oprah and Tyler Perry. With all the acclaim, I came into Precious expecting to be blown away and I was disappointed when that didn't occur.

No matter how I feel about much of the movie, it would be stupid of me not to praise the performances. The acting in Precious is really impressive and both Mo'Nique and Sidibe deserve all the acclaim they earned from the film. The film also scores points for it's openness and having the courage to talk about subjects that most film-makers would run away from screaming. Even with these things working in the movie's favor, Precious falters for a lot of reasons. The first is the simple, technical film-making. There is some really jarring camera work in Precious and, rather than add to the atmosphere, it tends to distract the eye from what it should be looking at. The rest of my issues with the movie stem from the writing and story progression. I feel obligated to talk about the fantasy sequences in the movie. Some of them were really interesting, but others were just strange. I have bigger problems with the film's story. I mentioned earlier that the fact this movie was a total fiction bothers me. There is a level of tact that fiction writers and film-makers must demonstrate when creating. The majority of Precious is effective and believable, but once you add everything together it just becomes a little too much to take seriously. The writing also deserves to be questioned. While everyone knows people like this really exist, it seems detrimental to the book's and the film's goals to make the lifestyle of the characters so stereotypical. 

When the dust clears, Precious has some excellent moments of raw emotion that make it effective and worth watching. Maybe my opinion hinges a lot on the fact that I am a total outsider to the culture the movie is presenting, but if I'm not the target audience than who is? The purpose of raising awareness with a film is that even people who know nothing about these issues are still moved to action by your movie. If you want to see effective film-making with this objective watch Hotel Rawanda. In the end, I couldn't decide if I should be laughing at the sheer outlandishness of Precious or crying at the few parts that solicited an actual emotional response out of me. Luckily for the movie, the performances here are good enough to make the movie worth seeing.


No comments: