Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Review - Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

This movie is simply a revelation, from its unique approach to its subject matter (parental abuse) to its amazing first-time director (Lee Daniels) to its breakthrough lead actress (Gabourey Sidibe). There's never been a screen character quite like Precious/Claireece (Gabourey Sidibe), an overweight teenager with one small child and another one on the way (both a result of rape by her own father), a mother (an astounding performance by Mo'Nique) who verbally and physically attacks her on a daily basis and an impoverished existence in Harlem. It's no surprise that Precious is completely shut down, her face an expressionless mask with only the occasional burst of anger giving any clue to the warm, complicated girl underneath. The fantasy life of Precious, however, is as colorful and flashy as her real life is bleak and hopeless. In moments of particular stress, she flips a mental switch to enter a glamorous world where she's the center of attention, dressed in glittering gowns and flirting with the man of her dreams. School is almost as bad as home for Precious until a caring teacher (Paula Patton) begins to turn things around. As part of a small, special class for troubled kids who are struggling both socially and academically, Precious begins writing and connecting with others. It's not a transformation as it would be in most movies, just a few slow steps towards opening up and acknowledging her own self worth, making progress in little ways, turning a corner.

What's particularly exceptional about this film, in addition to a marvelous script (by Geoffrey Fletcher) and outstanding performances, is the way in which the small triumphs are achieved against truly overwhelming odds. I can't think of a single moment on film last year to match the emotional impact of the final shot in "Precious" or the turbulent journey leading up to that moment. A perfectly cast and executed movie like this is increasingly rare. There are scenes of almost unberable cruelty and sadness, yet to experience the horrifying, surprisingly inspiring story of Precious is worth being put through some hell.

Things to love about this movie: Inspired filmmaking and acting with spot-on casting; no sentimentality; terrific soundtrack; the little touches (like the household cats who are shown better treatment than Precious)
Things to hate about this movie: Only the fact that we've never seen anything approaching this story until now
Pleasant surprises: A de-glammed Mariah Carey turns in an excellent performance, ditto for Lenny Kravitz
Unpleasant surprises: Lee Daniels has been omitted from many Best Director lists