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Once every so often a film comes along that will change your perception of things. In one way or another it will give you elements to better yourself. "Precious" is such a film. Lee Daniels, the director, takes things to extremes, so much so that this could easily be an opera. When you think that things couldn't be worse, you discover that they have been worse already for a long time. Precious is played by a sort of miracle. Her name is Gubarey Sidibe and I don't even know how to pronounce it but I will certainly take her in my mind from now on, always. When she stands listening to the rantings of her mother, I surprised myself by feeling tears running down my face. The mother, a standout, once in a lifetime performance by Mo'Nique, is also a character we've never seen before. Brutal, unsentimental and truthful to the core. I saw the film over three weeks ago and I can't shake it out of my system, if that in itself is not a sign of greatness I don't know what is.
I should start out by emphasizing that I disagree with much of the
criticism the film has been receiving. A common disparagement condemns
the movie as "emotionally manipulative" and "superficially
inspirational", much like other films that fall into the category of
the "inspirational dramas" depicting stories of individuals overcoming
obstacles and hardships that many people seem to hate. Well, I
personally found that the film portrays a reality far too bleak and
dismal and brutal for it to possibly be considered "inspirational"; in
addition, while the film ends on somewhat of a high note, even that is
laced with misery and becomes the lesser of two evils for the
protagonist. Another criticism of the film and of the book it is
based on is from the opposite end of the spectrum, and blames the
film for portraying TOO bleak a situation to the point of exploitation.
I personally found the scenario portrayed in the film to be strikingly
realistic, and I think that people who are too ignorant to realize that
such a grim existence can feasibly be led in 21st century America need
a serious wake-up call.
One aspect of the film that deserves all the praise in the world is its cast, specifically the performances of its lead actresses and the surprising and unexpected quality of these performances considering the particular thespians involved. First and foremost, we have the breakout role of Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, portraying the overweight, twice-pregnant and illiterate protagonist, Precious. The performance is a revelation both because of how convincingly Sidibe reacts to and interacts with her brutal day-to-day existence, but also because of how completely removed it is from the first-time actresses' actual life. It's always impressive to see a performer convincingly convey difficult and profound emotions that they probably would never feel themselves in their real lives, but for a first-time actress to convey these emotions is particularly incredible. Precious' life is populated by three prominent adult characters; two of which see past her daunting exterior and genuinely want to help her, and one who does the exact opposite. Mariah Carey plays a social worker who takes a personal interest in Precious' case and, in the film's most dramatically gut-wrenching scene, makes a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between the teenager and her monstrous mother. Carey has only ever acted in two or three other films, including the atrocious vanity project "Glitter", but in this role, she de-glams, puts on a convincing and raspy accent and actually manages to deliver a surprisingly well rounded and convincing performance. Paula Patton plays another alternate mother figure in Precious' life, her teacher at her alternate school who takes a particularly personal interest in Precious, to the point of letter her stay at her home when she has nowhere else to go. Unlike Mariah Carey, Patton never did anything to totally remove my confidence in her acting abilities, but then again, she's never actually given what can really be considered a "good" performance, which is what makes her tender and genuine turn in this film most impressive. But the scene-stealer is without a doubt Mo'Nique, probably one of my LEAST favorite "comedic" performers who totally redeems herself and manages to deliver a frighteningly convincing performance, incredibly transforming herself into Precious' villainous, sadistic and purely evil mother. It is an incredible and difficult and extremely brave performance, and is even more impressive considering that it's coming from the star of "Phat Girlz".
The performances are rich and incredible enough to hold up dramatic scenes, but not the narrative as a whole, which, as I mentioned before, suffers from a series of bad directorial choices made by director Lee Daniels. The film's biggest flow is emotional inconsistency: in an attempt to portray Precious' inner feelings, Daniels injects strangely conceived fantasy sequences at key dramatic moments in which Precious imagines herself as a glamorous and famous personality. While the intention of these sequences is clear, their abruptness just totally jolts the audience out of the emotional flow of the film, and they just seem out of place. For a similar reason, Daniels chooses to set grim and dramatic scenes to oddly inappropriate songs and musical cues, which once again just feel forced and out of place, and interrupt the emotional resonance of the scenes. Other than that, the film just seems poorly done at times, or simply unfinished: the cinematography is inconsistent and often features zooms and loss of focus that don't feel like stylistic choices but rather just like mistakes. In addition, the editing is quite disjointed at times, and many cuts interrupt musical cues in the middle or otherwise are just so sudden and jumbled that they completely ruin the dramatic flow. Finally, I just felt that while many separate scenes work wonderfully and are emotional and genuinely gut-wrenching, they are just too loosely connected for the film to actually carry a consistent dramatic arc throughout, as it jumps between Precious' brutal home life to her newfound support in her classroom to her day-to-day activities to her inner fantasies. For example, a major dramatic reveal near the end of the film end sup completely ignored and thus irrelevant to the dramatic arc. As I mentioned earlier, the performances are absolutely spectacular, but the inconsistencies in the film's tone and its jumbled and odd editing take away from what otherwise could have been a genuinely affective film.
Gabourey Sibide looks and sounds a lot like the late Hattie McDaniel;
if a biopic about McDaniel is ever made, Sibide should star. Starting
from this superficiality, it is clear that the character Sibide plays,
an abused, obese late- 20th-century Harlem teenager three or four
generations down the line from the McDaniels era, seems to embody a
sadly ironic regression in the status of black women in America.
Precious's very existence and her debased environment speak to a grave
social disease that continues to poison our civilization the creation
and perpetuation of a dependent underclass. At one point Precious
compares her self image to "black grease that needs to be wiped away."
The horror of it all is that as dreadful as Precious's situation is,
she is actually better off than many others in similar straits. She is,
despite obesity, strong and healthy, drug free and has a beautiful
smile. There are plenty of underclass females much closer to an early
grave and utter hopelessness than she.
The story takes us on the journey of this monstrously mistreated young female from near destruction at the hands of her violent, hyper-narcissistic mother (Mo'Nique) and her rapist father (who has impregnated her twice by age 16) to a rescue with the help of a frayed but still somewhat viable network of dedicated social workers who help her gain literacy and independence from her wicked elders.
Interspersed with the depressing realities of ghetto life is the constant flow of Precious's glamorous daydreams, the little fires generated by her undying spark of life, her only opening toward beauty and light, imagining herself wrapped in beautiful gowns, doted on by handsome men, cheered by adoring crowds on the red carpet; wealth, fame, as she knows them from the pop culture that is her only mental nourishment. For her mother and for herself, life is an endless round of TVfoodarguments-TVfood-arguments. In their dark and dingy apartment, practically the only illumination is from the TV screen.
Mo'Nique's performance is revelatory on multiple levels, down to the bone of the human condition and certainly up to the highest screen standards. It is bravura work. Sibide's performance is technically masterful but much of her effectiveness comes from her imposing physical presence; this is not meant to detract one iota from her acting skills it is just a fact. The excellent supporting performances include a pleasing turn from singer Mariah Carey as a down-to-earth social worker with a playful personality; it's an inventive characterization. But the whole cast excels and they should be honored for great ensemble work, especially the young ladies in the special education classroom.
Flaws? The pacing seems to slow down unnecessarily toward the end and Precious's educational progression seems a bit confused and not completely fleshed out, but this is minor stuff. This is a very inspired work of art by someone with a fresh vision. It is not preaching morals or slogans, just revealing truth.
I'm not surprised that Push won both the Grand Jury and Audience Award
at Sundance this year. Director Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer) has created a
very powerful film that manages to entertain while evoking a broad
spectrum of emotions, from anger and heartbreaking pity to optimism,
joy and hope.
Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabby Sidibe) is a fat 16-year-old illiterate black girl that lives in Harlem with her welfare-dependent, abusive mother (Mo'Nique). She has one autistic daughter (who lives with her grandmother) and is pregnant with another child, both from her mother's boyfriend, who is also Clareece's father. Her mother repeatedly tells her how stupid and worthless she is while other kids taunt her for her obesity. She has become hardened and heartless, lacking education and social skills. She spends her time cooking for her mother and fantasizing unrealistically about a glamorous life. She would be easy to dismiss. Based on a novel by Sapphire, this is some pretty bleak stuff.
But good things can happen in this world and Precious is blessed with an indomitable spirit that refuses to accept the negative reinforcement that bombards her. Through her efforts, and despite resistance from her mother, she finds an alternative school. It is staffed by Miss Rains, a caring teacher (Paula Patton) and classmates who, although anything but perfect, possess enough compassion to become supportive friends. It turn out that the world can be a pretty good place.
First-time actress Gabby Sidibe gives a powerful, emotive performance. Equally good is talented actresses Mo'Nique, who is almost frightening as Precious' mother, and Patton as the compassionate teacher. Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey also have minor roles, giving the film a little star power.
Daniels conveys a Harlem existence that is profane, hard-edged and brutal, but with rays of humanity and compassion that leave room for hope. It is at once both a message to the poor in spirit not to despair, and to the rest of us make the time and effort to reach out where we can. Push is an inspiring message that will fill you with optimism and joy.
Sundance Moment: When asked about her getting the role, Sidibe said that she had some acting experience--like a non-speaking role in a college production. Pretty funny! She said her friends encouraged her to audition because she "fit the profile." She also said she relied heavily on "Mr. Daniels" for direction. Daniels said there were parts of making the movie that were hard on him emotionally--like directing Precious to eat, or instructing her peers to bully her.
I saw Precious at the New York Film Festival yesterday. As you may
know, Precious is the only film to ever win the Audience Award at both
the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals. The film has
been highly hyped since January and I was afraid I would be
underwhelmed. Well, I sure wasn't! Precious is a powerhouse piece of
cinema that will rip your heart to shreds. The acting is pitch perfect
from everybody and the film-making is unusual.
Precious is about Claireece 'Precious' Jones, an overweight girl who has already had a child with Down's Syndrome from when she was raped by her father. Her mother constantly abuses her and she's already pregnant with her second baby. When she gets kicked out of school and is forced to go to an alternative school to help her get her GED, she realizes that there may actually be hope for her.
The acting is easily the most important and best thing during Precious. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe will absolutely be famous and definitely deserves the Best Actress Oscar. Her performance was so real and searing that you're just forced to sympathize with her. Other cast includes Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, and Mo'Nique who are all unfamiliar to the genre, but still perform very well. Mo'Nique gives a really great performance as the abusive mother Mary and should definitely win an Oscar as well. Mariah Carey's performance is a bit dry, but her character is not very major. Paula Patton, the actress who plays Blu Rain, Precious' teacher, gives a believable and loving performance as well. Also, the girls in Precious' class are all great. I actually was sitting behind them at the screening and got the them to sign my Playbill. They were all very excited.
The crowd seemed to love the movie. At Toronto, people laughed at serious parts, but the New York audience ate it up. People clapped for Precious, cried at the right parts, and even gasped at the screen over some of the violence. The violence is often so abrupt that it feels as if you too could have just been hit over the head with a pan. Everybody was so engaged in watching it even Gabourey Sidibe herself who had already seen it three times. Even she had trouble watching some parts. At the end of the movie, everyone in the audience stood up and gave Lee Daniels and his cast about a ten minute standing ovation. Everybody loved the film. Precious is definitely one of the best movies of the year and will definitely at least be nominated for Best Picture if not win it. It may be a bit bleak, but Precious gives me and everybody else hope. Lee Daniels wrote a quotation at the end of the movie that said "For precious girls everywhere". This is what really put the icing on the cake. Precious is a magnificent and disturbing movie.
I just saw this film at Sundance, and it was truly amazing. I confess I did not read the book (I will now), but I suspect that Daniels really took it to the next level. The story of Precious and her world was deeply moving and supremely well acted. I was particularly surprised at my own ability to laugh, along with the story, at the worst humanity can throw at us. After the film, Daniels, the producers, and the entire cast came forward to many standing ovations. Gabby was indeed charming, and I was particularly riveted by Mo'Nique's discussion of how she was able to become Mary, Precious' mother. Daniels fielded many questions from the audience, mostly directed at the task of realizing this story. I hope to see his work again. This is a heavy film, but I highly recommend it.
A fine film. An American urban working class drama, it manages to steer
clear of almost every possible idiomatic pothole created by
predecessors charging blithely down the same street. It seems real -
only the controlled framing tells you that it's not a documentary to
begin with - it's often funny, and has wonderfully placed surreal
day-dream sequences (I wasn't a fan of these per se, but I liked how
they were used). The Dangerous Minds/Freedom Writers school of
contrived classroom turnaround is completely avoided (with one notable
exception). The final set piece is one of the most raw, emotionally
bruising and uplifting things I've seen in a cinema for a very long
time; everyone was crying.
At the centre is (worthy Oscar tip) Gabby Sidibe as the eponymous Clareece Precious Jones. The fact that her middle name is not some sort of irony lever is a testament not only to Lee Daniels but also to her iron performance. It's also impressive that the satellite cast act with the character she is digging out (yes, even Mariah Carey, an amazing metamorphosis). It would be so simple and safe for everyone to treat Clareece as the fat girl whose acts garner pity and pathos. That is not this film, not by a very long way.
The film achieves so much. It's relentlessly warm and human - a middle- class audience, such as the one I was in at the 53rd London Film Festival, doesn't need to nod sagely and side with the protagonists as abstract figures representing a life of alternative fortune. There's too much to enjoy and synchronise with. Consequently, when the bad things happen they are spasm-in-the-auditorium shocking. Brilliant. 8/10
This is a truly moving, patiently directed American movie the likes of
which we rarely get treated to anymore. The word 'Precious' certainly
does take on it's original meaning after seeing this story unfold.
Just when I think 'the movies' have lost their last bit of integrity, a movie like this comes along as though to say 'don't worry, it's still an art form'.
As for Mo'Nique... well... I wonder what she'll say in her acceptance speeches? Brava, brava, brava.
And Mariah's performance is outstanding and deeply surprising as well.
I can't recommend this film highly enough.
To my surprise, this soul-baring 2009 drama is neither as painful nor
depressing as the subject matter would imply. In fact, director Lee
Daniels' treatment alternates so fluently between gritty realism,
social uplift, and fanciful episodes of fantasy that the end result is
as much enthralling as it is emotionally draining. First-time
screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher does a solid job adapting the 1996
source novel by Sapphire, "Push", but the strength and honesty of the
cast is what sears in the memory. Daniels could have been otherwise
charged with stunt casting had he not drawn out such powerhouse work
from the out-of-left-field likes of comedienne Mo'Nique and pop diva
Mariah Carey. Granted Daniels in his second directorial effort is not
the most subtle of filmmakers (his first film was the strangely exotic
"Shadowboxer"), but he does bring a level of florid passion that the
subject desperately needs to alleviate the unrelenting bleakness of the
title character's existence.
Set in Harlem in 1987, the story centers on sixteen-year-old Claireece "Precious" Jones, a morbidly obese girl so void of self-worth that she refers to herself without irony as "ugly black grease to be washed from the street". Nearly illiterate, she finds herself pregnant for the second time by her father, and the school principal arranges to enroll Precious at an "alternative" institution. She recognizes this as an opportunity to better herself, but her mother Mary discourages it and forces Precious to apply for welfare. The unenviable mother-daughter relationship is the crux of the film, and it is here the film gives an unblinking account of monstrous physical and psychological abuse that explains the sharp contrast between Precious' inner and outer lives. On the outside, she is a forlorn yet formidable presence with a face so full that she can't express emotion without a great deal of effort. On the inside, she is loved and admired unconditionally. The two slowly come together at Precious' new school where she finds acceptance and redemption through a dedicated teacher (improbably named Blu Rain), who must get through to a classroom full of girls all disadvantaged in their own ways.
The birth of Precious' son, along with the bonding she feels at school, signals a harrowing showdown between mother and daughter and ultimately a confrontation between Mary and Mrs. Weiss, the no-nonsense social worker who seeks the truth behind Precious' home life. In the title role, Gabourey Sidibe is ideally cast given the film's semi-documentary approach. An untrained actress, she is able to elicit empathy by giving herself completely to the inchoate character, and when Precious breaks down from the weight of yet another seemingly insurmountable development, Sidibe gives the scene a halting honesty. Paula Patton ("Swing Vote") gets to play the Sidney Poitier role of the elegantly transformative teacher as Ms. Rain, but she gives the too-good-to-be-true character a palpable sense of passion. As Mrs. Weiss, a role originally slated for Helen Mirren (who co-starred in Daniels' "Shadowboxer"), Mariah Carey, bereft of her glistening make-up and diva mannerisms, brings an audacious toughness to her smallish but pivotal role.
However, it is Mo'Nique ("Phat Girlz") that gives the film's most shattering performance. I don't know what emotional reservoir she is tapping into, but she nails Mary with a fury so startling and realistic that it's impossible to trivialize the source of her villainy. She never compromises the hardness in her character, and her self-justifying monologue is an impressive piece of work. There is also solid work from a couple of other unusually cast performers, comedienne Sherri Shepherd (of the morning TV talkfest "The View") as a tough school administrator aptly named Cornrows and Lenny Kravitz as a sympathetic male nurse, and a scene-stealing turn from Xosha Roquemore as the ebullient Joann ("My favorite color is florescent beige"). Not all of Daniels' left-turn devices work, for instance, using Sophia Loren's "Two Women" as the basis of one of Precious' fantasies seems contrived given only a die-hard cineaste would understand the connection. Regardless, it's no wonder that Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry put their stamp of approval on the film as executive producers since Precious ultimately finds a personal triumph despite the hard life has dealt her.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The only reason I can see that this movie gets the attention that it
does is the amazing acting and the pure shock value of poor inner city
life. Story wise though Precious seems to be one long cliché. It's
great to examine poor inner city life, but it can be done better than
Take for example how the parents are painted as pure evil, while poor Precious is angelic, how can we not forgive her for not knowing what's appropriate? Teachers, social workers and so on are also inexplicably perfect as well as thin and/or white. Why do we have to have to have evil black archetypes and purely selfless saviors? It's unrealistic and a bit racist.
Things just go from bad to worse to even worse, well that's quite sad but you can't cry the whole time you're watching this thing, so what's the point? Take away that and it's yet another Hollywood cliché of the unappreciated student and/or class that is reached by a special teacher. Where have we NOT seen that one before?
OK the girl is fat, an important detail . OK her parents are horrible to her, every children's movie or fairy tale starts that way. She leads a rich fantasy life to escape daily trauma, again with the children's film parodies? OK she finally finds someone that understands and helps her fulfill her true potential despite parental influence. What is this a grimmer version of Roald Dahl's Matilda? A plot line that is meant for an 8 year old? I just don't get it.
Skip this "Little Matchstick Girl" meets "Sister Act 2" tearjerker and go see a movie that tells a unique story.
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