Sunday 14 February 2010

Review: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Year: 2009 (2010 UK release)
Director: Lee Daniels
Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher
Starring: Gabby Sidibe, Mo'Nique

Plot Synopsis is here

I write this review on Valentines Day, and while those who know what Precious is about may think it's an odd one to watch one such a day. I felt I needed something like this as other aspects of my life....aren't going so well. I needed something different, and not a cheesefest. Precious was that film. And while it sometimes has the whiff of a made for TV movie, it's solid screenplay, powerhouse performances and hard-hitting themes kept me watching.

Always controversial critic Armond White has derided the film as propaganda and bemoans the films daydream scenes as
"materialist fantasy as a universal motivation". I disagree. It's the situation it presents and the performances that Daniels squeezes out of the film are positioned as plain matter of fact. He argues that Precious a young girl who lives in a vicious cycle of welfare, is a walking stereotypical that at one point steals a bucket of fried chicken as some sort of final insult. That's a shame, because I feel he's missed the inflections in Mo'Nique's voice during her end monologue so affecting. I feel he also misses the fact that while the film portrayal of black American life is unflattering, it is one that IS taking place and while it may not be as OTT as shown here, they are facing pain just as harsh. To add to this these stereotypes that Mr White speak about do unfortunately exist, but they won't be watching Precious I tell you that. They will however, be giving into the hip-hop lifestyles that is being mentioned and broadcast on the MTV's and BET's of the world. Precious' daydreams suggest not a bland materialism that all blacks aspire to, but an outlook of life that many ONLY see. It's ugly and horrible to suggest but true. Unfortunately his review gives off the impression that there is a vast about of black people who live in a candy Cosby world who all wish to write wordy reviews for the New York Press. Not so.

Daniel's film, while heavy-handed, is merely displaying the situation the best way a mainstream audience will absorb such material, much like a certain blue-skinned money spinner. Subtlety isn't the best way that America should handle it's race and welfare issues, it should be head on and Precious' hard hitting execution is an almost perfect way for display this.

Precious reminds us that while people are still talking about the era of change, there's still a huge amount of work needed to break the vicious cycle of poverty. It shows us that many embrace this lifestyle and don't wish to change soon. It's at times a difficult watch but not one without it's humor. Heart-wrenching scenes are balanced with moments that almost have a coroners type of humor to them. I then realized that what Daniel's doing is paralleling us with his lead character, giving us a chance to escape into a world of fantasy/humor with her at times. it makes perfect sense to do this because it is what people do. We watch certain movies to feel better and to laugh when we feel bad. Daniel's decision to combine both us and Precious is a strong idea and helped me swallow the bitterness the film sometimes brings.

But it's not just the themes and what the film is about which got me it's the mechanics of the film itself. It's no surprise that the novel was written by a former slam poet (Sapphire) because the films dialogue (particularly it's narration) has a wonderful rhythm to it. Daniel's performance is direct and straight to the point, as is the performances on show. It's hard not to admire the good work that is placed within the film. Kudos must go to the two turns delivered to Gabby Sidibe, Mo'Nique who give brave displays. Smaller roles by Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz are not cases of stunt casting, but well balanced and watchable parts.

I find it hard to see Precious getting any awards as there's films that I believe are stronger and I feel the academy will feel the same. It also struggles with it's plausibility at times (seriously SO much gets thrown at this poor girl). With all this said, with directors like John Singleton, Antoine Fuqua and F Gary Grey roaming in African American filmmaker limbo, Precious and Lee Daniels is a step in the right direction.

Hear me rave about this flick on the Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online