Saturday, November 14, 2009

It’s a Hard Knock Life: “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is the Must See Movie of the Oscar Season

Finally this year we have a hyped movie that is worth all of the hype. “Precious Based on the Novel ‘Push’ Sapphire” (yes that’s the actual title) is a film that was made for little money and was not made to just win awards. This little indie darling which wowed audiences earlier this year at Sundance with what seemed liked a guaranteed Oscar nomination for comedian Mo’Nique has officially been given full on Award Season buzz. If this little movie doesn’t get nominated for Best Picture I would be surprised and I would be offended. This is a little film that deserves to be seen and if its Oscar buzz is one reason for people to see it then so be it. Of course “presenters” Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey help as well.

“Precious” is the story of Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones (Gabourey Sidibe, more on her later) an overweight Black teenager living in Harlem in 1987. She’s sixteen and she can barely read, heck she can hardly speak. She’s pregnant with her second child after being raped by her own dad both times. She lives with her abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique) in the type of sad little apartment one usually sees in Harlem. Basically her life sucks. Of course this is a movie presented by Oprah so we know things can only get better for Precious, who is a character we identify with and sympathize with not only because we feel bad for her but because of Sidibe’s terrific and natural performance and Lee Daniel’s brilliant direction.

Going in to “Precious” I was prepared for a tiny, gritty little drama with shaky camerawork and raw performances. That’s sort of correct, but the way the film is made really just blew my mind. Daniel’s directorial flourishes are just absolutely amazing. We’re given an inside glimpse into Precious’ fantasy world which makes sense since her real life is a living hell and because she’s such an introverted person she can only escape by going inside herself. Daniels works this out with interesting cinematic trickery like in one scene in which Precious looks in the mirror and imagines herself as a pretty white girl. Or what about her fantasy of marrying her math teacher and living together in Westchester. And then there is Precious imagining life with her nasty mother as a black and white Italian drama complete with subtitles. When Precious escapes to her fantasy world we’re given lots of bold colors and bright lights; it certainly is a welcome contrast to her painful and dark home life.

Precious is given the opportunity to go to a special needs school where she can get the education that she deserves. Here she meets other teenage girls who have troubled lives as well. She can finally be among friends and not people who push her around or make her life feel worthless. We’re introduced to Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), Precious’ new caring teacher who is a large source of warmth for her. These scenes offer a glimpse of hope that Precious isn’t going to slip through the cracks but rather make her life even just a little bit better.

Remember I mentioned that Precious lives with her abusive mother? Well I don’t think abusive is even strong enough a word. While Mary can easily be seen as just the bad guy, writer Geoffrey Fletcher and Daniels do an interesting thing. They let the audience go the entire film convincing us that she’s just an evil villain. And then at the end of the film we’re given a glimpse into why Mary is the way she is. Does it make her more sympathetic? Not quite, but it makes her human and that’s ok. Because to think of her as just a villain is wrong, she’s a fully developed character that is unlikable yes, but provides such interesting stark drama throughout the film that you become simply glued to the screen. Mo’Nique is terrific in this difficult and controversial role because there’s a fine line between acting and overacting maybe some will see it as promoting racial stereotypes. But I have to say stereotype or not, there are a lot of bad mothers out there. Some are black and some are white, but the color isn’t important. (This film doesnt stereotype any more than The Godfather stereotypes Italian people or Slumdog Millionaire stereotypes Indian people). When you see her carrying her Down Syndrome grandchild as if she were just a bag of potatoes it’s heartbreaking, disturbing, infuriating. There’s a lot of emotions right there. I think Mo’Nique just hits all the right notes. As does Sidibe, who as a newcomer shows such amazing promise. She makes Precious come alive with her introverted and indelible performance. Heck even pop stars Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz are good here in small but effect roles.

“Precious” is just a wonderful film all around. There are some disturbing elements which may turn off some people, but the outcome is worth it. You can call it this year’s “Slumdog Millionaire” if you want. It’s a small, culturally aware movie with entertaining mass appeal. It’s not just a movie you watch, it’s a movie you experience. GRADE: A