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Precious (2009)

November 13, 2009

VERDICT:
9/10 Hard-Knock Lives

It’s been a while since I’ve come across such a genuine and harrowing movie as this. Last one was probably The Diving Bell and The Butterfly back in ’07. Both left me weeping like a baby. I am embarrassing to watch movies with.

Precious: based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire (had to throw that in there) is about a 16-year-old girl – Precious – living in Harlem, NY in the late ’80s. The movie follows her as she struggles to gain control of her life and do what’s right for her all the while coping with her physically and emotionally abusive mother. And she’s also carrying her father’s child.

Nope, that was not a typo.

Needless to say, Precious ends up being one emotional experience to sit through. I like to think that I’m not that much of a softy when it comes to breaking out the waterworks during movies, but good lord does this one pull on the heartstrings. But like I said, it’s genuine. Aiden R. doesn’t cry at that sappy shit.

Now, I can understand how you the paternal incest could be off-putting for some. Actually, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume it’s off-putting for everybody. But the good thing is that it’s handled very carefully without dwelling on the rape scenes or mistakenly make it the center point of Precious’ life. While I’ve heard the novel gets very descriptive about this particular area, I’m glad the movie opted to address it quickly and effectively without getting into any of the gritty details. You don’t need to get to descriptive to get the message across with this kind of thing.

But the incest subject aside, it’s still pretty tough to take at times, primarily because even before Precious starts getting picked on by strangers or chewed out/attacked by her own mother, you can pretty much tell right away that she doesn’t have it easy. God, I feel like I’m making this out to be a sob story. It’s really not. It’s just that there aren’t a whole lot of movies that really get across that life is effing tough in the way that Precious does. It doesn’t jam it down your throat and there’s a ton of redemptive qualities to both Precious’ character and the good people in her life to balance it all out. Granted, things get pretty bad, but Precious proves herself to be one tough cookie.

Thank God for that. And thank God this movie has such a great sense of humor to boot. You wouldn’t guess, especially at this point in the review, but I found myself laughing out lout along with everyone else in the theater a number of times.

One of the big things that stood out for me aside from the acting (which I’ll get to in a sec) is how well Precious captures the voice of inner-city youth in Harlem. Being that I work with inner-city youth in New York on a daily basis, it really impressed me that this script along with the kids delivering the lines did such a good job of keeping the dialogue so believably colloquial and their mannerisms so authentic. Nor does the script sugarcoat the dialogue for the adults in the movie, and while I’m not sure that this would be a selling point for those who don’t work with NYC teens, it was a big one for me and made everything else feel that much more real.

And as for the acting, the entire cast is nothing short of phenomenal. Newcomer Gabby Sidibe is just excellent as Precious. So much raw emotion and subtle power from such a young kid isn’t something you come by everyday. Really hope things take off for her from here on out, she rocked it.

A good deal of the cast is also made up of musicians, which is an interesting move that luckily works out well. Lenny Kravitz plays Precious’ nurse, not a very big role but he’s quite good all the same. And Mariah Carey of all people totally nails it as Precious’ case worker, completely resurrecting her acting career from the dark depths of Glitter. One of those situations where you have to do a double take to make sure these people are actually Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey. Who knew they could look so…normal.

But the scene-stealer of the evening goes to Mo’Nique – yes, Mo’Nique from VH1’s Charm School and The Queens of Comedy – as Precious’ mother. I heard she was good here from all the buzz she got at Cannes or Sundance or whatever it was this year, and she more than lived up to the hype. Not the most flattering individual to be portraying on any front, nor must it have been easy by any means to get the heart of such a tortured soul as hers, but, holy hell, what a powerhouse of a performance. I’m tellin’ ya, if she doesn’t win that Oscar, some shit is up, folks.

And just one more shout-out to Paula Patton as Precious’ teacher and mentor. Never seen her before, but an absolutely fantastic on-screen presence as well.

Before this thing gets too long, should probably mention that it’s also really well-directed by Lee Daniels. He really handles this movie well and arranges it beautifully, particularly in regards to editing. So way to go, Lee.

I really didn’t know what I was getting into with this movie, but I’m beyond glad that I took the plunge. It shouldn’t matter whether you can cannot Precious’ circumstances or not, this is such a profoundly heartfelt and honest movie from every angle that I think you’d be hard-pressed to not find yourself fight down that lump in your throat. Precious currently stands as my #2 movie of the year, right behind Up and right ahead of Inglourious Basterds, so hopefully that counts for something. One of those stories that deserves to be heard.

Has a great old school R&B soundtrack, too.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2009 2:10 pm

    Great review! I really hope the backlash campaign doesn’t lead people away from watching this film.

  2. Branden permalink
    November 15, 2009 3:57 pm

    I saw this film yesterday. Such a good film, it’s not great, but a solid movie overall.

  3. Ingrid permalink
    December 12, 2009 2:35 am

    Ok… The movie was well written. The acting was excellent. But I prefer not to have to take prozac before and after I see a movie. This was the most depressing two hours I ever spent and unless you had a stiff drink or a Rx for anti-depressants it just shouldn’t be seen. I hated this movie.

    • December 14, 2009 11:22 am

      Yeah, this one was pretty freakin’ heavy, but I still dug it. Shook me up, I like when movies do that. I hear ya though.

  4. December 12, 2009 11:34 am

    I just don’t see the point of this movie, to be honest. Granted, it’s in a no-win situation: as it stands, its reserved ending is too little in the face of the atrocities Precious suffers, but if it ended on a truly happy note we’d be decrying how Hollywood turned it into a fairy tale. But that’s just it: it is a fairy tale. Precious is not a realistic depiction of neglected and abused urban black youth but a composite of all the horror stories the author came across. That doesn’t make her a symbol of a social hell but a punching bag to be tortured for the filmmakers’ amusement. Daniels’ direction is horrific, lingering over the abuses to manipulate the audience into sympathy for a character who plays like every fairy tale princess — what is the apartment and its exaggerated height in the building but the tallest room in the tallest tower? — who suffers nothing but indignities and horrors until the very end. Precious is a fairy tale that removes the happy ending for something downbeat and then passes it off as “real.”

    I will say though that I hope both Sidibe and Mo’Nique get noms (Mo’Nique has noooo competition at all) and that the rest of the cast was equally fantastic. But, for me, this was the most wrong-headed, self-absorbed message movie since Paul Haggis’ Crash.

    • January 27, 2010 2:45 am

      It’s not a fairy tale, it’s not happily ever after.

      **SPOILERS AHEAD**
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      Precious has AIDS and is probably going to die from it – back then, the disease was basically a death sentence. That’s not happy.

      She has hope, and she has self-confidence. I found that final shot when Precious looks back into the mirror and sees herself rather than a skinny white girl particularly moving.

      • January 27, 2010 2:47 am

        P.S.
        Aiden, will you edit my previous comment and put SPOILER tags on it.
        And then you can delete this comment if you so desire.

    • Sarah permalink
      June 4, 2010 9:57 pm

      Wow, I am so glad that I’m not the only person who didn’t go gaga over this movie. Jake perfectly sums up and explains all the flaws that ruined the movie for me.

  5. December 23, 2009 10:19 am

    Finally got to see this last night, and I couldn’t agree with you more – this is movie is nothing short of an eloquent punch in the gut. I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed it, given the amount of hype that had built up by the time I finally got to see it.

    I think what I liked most from it was how the story ended. I don’t want to give too much away here but there must have been a temptation to tie things off neatly. The fact that the train pulls away from us after we’ve reached our stop is a bold move, and is one of the biggest factors that set the film apart for me.

    Great review!

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