Thursday, January 28, 2010

Precious (2009)

Strong performances elevate would would have otherwise been a Lifetime movie of the week.

Clarice Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is 16 years old, illiterate, poor, and pregnant for the second time with her father's baby. Not exactly the ideal life for anyone. She spends her days struggling in school and being teased and she spends her nights taking care of her verbally, physically, and sexually abuse mother Mary (Mo'Nique). After getting expelled for being pregnant, Precious is sent to an alternative school, headed by Mrs. Blu Rain (Paula Patton) who encourages writing and sharing. The class eventually begins to open Precious' world and give her a chance as escaping her current situation.

Sounds familiar? The plot isn't exactly blazing new territory, but luckily we have a wonderful cast of truly talented women to elevate the film above what could have been a predictable mess. The performance that grounds the film is Gabourey Sidibe's, who deserves the eventual Oscar nomination that she'll receive. It would be far too easy to make Precious a victim and make her seem so downtrodden by her situation, but instead Sidibe keeps the pain below the surface, as if Precious is determined not to show the anger and hurt. She is allowed about 1 breakdown in this movie, and it's absolutely heart shattering to watch as everything we've seen Precious endure through the film is allowed to finally be released.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Mo'Nique, who before this was doing films like Phat Girlz and Soul Plane is now the Oscar frontrunner, and deservedly so. Throughout the film, we see the monster that is Mary Jones as she strikes her daughter and insults her, but luckily we are given one scene in which a social worker (Mariah Carey, who is actually really good as someone who has seen it all) confronts Mary about the abuse and we are allowed to see the human being inside Mary, and how she is a victim as well. That one scene takes what could have been an easy character to play, the absolute troll of a human being and adds so many layers and nuances and Mo'Nique does it brilliantly.

And while we have Mo'Nique to be the villain, the film needs it's hero, someone to save Precious and we have it in the character of Mrs. Rain. It's actually sad that Paula Patton isn't receiving as much acclaim as Sibibe or Mo'Nique, because I happen to think that she's brilliant. She makes a character with an infinite amount of warmth and compassion without being schmaltzy, who also has some fire and fight within her and is able to inspire her students to do more.

And lastly, we have Mariah Carey as Mrs. Weiss, the social worker. While she only has 2 scenes in the film, Carey is instantly able to give us her character's history, with the "I've seen too much" eyes, the lax posture, and the tired voice, she creates a woman that has seen so much hardship that she's both weary and hardened because of it. When she hears that Precious is pregnant by her own father, what would make others drop their jaws, she only meets with mild surprise.

One issue I found with the film is the inconsistent directorial choices made by Lee Daniels. It seems like he wanted to simply do too much, so we have some scenes that are shot almost documentary style, then we have scenes with overly dramatic flourish like when Precious is walking down the hallway to her new class, she fades out, appears further down the hall, fades out, and is near the end and when she opens the door we see shining gold light. It's very odd and jolts us from a film that is supposed to be so based in reality.

Another issue I have are with the dream sequences in which Precious envisions herself as a famous celebrity or dancing in a music video. I understand that this is where we see the "Ideal Precious", the happy Precious who is no longer burdened by the live she leads, but the sequences are so jarring and come across as so cheap that it doesn't feel all that glamorous.

But overall, this is a strong film that can be VERY hard to watch, but it's not so much doom and gloom that you walk away feeling depressed. It also has some of the best performances of the year, which makes it worth watching alone.

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