Thursday, February 11, 2010

Film Review - Precious

Film #18 of 2010 - Precious

Directed by Lee Daniels, Precious, set in 1987, is about a 16 year old girl named "Precious" Jones who has experienced more misery in her 16 years than most do in their lifetime. Obese and pregnant with her second child (her first child has Down's Syndrome and both whom were fathered by Precious' father), illiterate and still in junior high, plus living on welfare with a mother who despises her for existing, but especially because she feels she encouraged her father's incest and only gets up from her chair in front of the television to beat Precious mercilessly or to get more cigarettes. When Precious is kicked out of school for being pregnant, her school's counselor recommends an alternative school where she will get a more personalized education, and Precious, being aware of her surroundings, and though guarded, clearly hungering for positive relationships agrees. In doing so, with the help of positive role models, she begins the process of education, confidence and true self-awareness, while struggling to deal with her life outside of the school.

I actually had the opportunity to see Precious back when I was covering the 2009 Milwaukee Film Festival because it was the closing night presentation. Even back in September there was a lot of buzz about the film, and it was the first film to sell out - a week early on opening night. Having a press pass enabled me to get in to the film regardless, but knowing the subject matter, and having been through kind of an exhausting 10 days, it wasn't really something I was up for watching at that point. When it was commercially released, the hype was still there and the critics loved it, but again, there was never any time where I was thinking, "You know what, I'm in the mood to see an African-American girl living in the ghetto who is repeatedly beat down by everyone who knows her", so I kept pushing it off, until it was nominated for a bunch of Oscars and then I suddenly "had" to see it in order to fulfill my bizarre mission to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible.

What I discovered, is that while the film is indeed hard to watch, and at times almost unbearable, Precious was actually really well acted, produced and directed, and that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I ended up liking it (as much as one can "like" a movie like this.) Daniels is able to capture the essence of Precious and show the audience what is inside her head, and was also able to skirt the fine line of conveying emotion and inspiration without succumbing to cliches, which was a big relief. There were a couple of really poignant scenes that were directed with an amazing amount of subtlety and power; one of them being near the end when Precious gives her scarf to a little girl and then looks at herself in the mirror. That image was immediately burned in my brain, and probably made my rating of the film jump another half notch.

Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious, is a newcomer to cinema; and gives one hell of a debut performance. She makes her way through so many difficult scenes with a clear dignity, and heartbreaking directness. Truthfully, I was getting a little sick of seeing Mo'Nique accepting award after award because I could only picture her as a really obnoxious comedienne in bad sitcoms, but damned if she didn't change my mind. Her turn as Precious' mother, Mary, is horrifying, disgusting and nothing like I would have thought she could handle. All of the accolades have been deserved, in my opinion.

Precious is not a perfect film by any means, and as I mentioned earlier, it really skates the line between cliche and believable activities more often than not. However, it comes up on the good side for the most part, and it really left me pleasantly surprised. A colleague of mine saw Precious at the 2009 MFF and told me that it actually is a very hopeful and positive film. At the time, I thought she was certifiable, but after finally experiencing the film for myself, I can't help but agree.

4 stars out of 5

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