Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Precious: Based On the Watching of the Movie "Precious: Based On the Novel "Push" by Sapphire" by MovieBob

So I finally saw "Precious: Based On the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," which has become this year's movie that people judge you as a person based on your opinion of it (see also: "Life is Beautiful.") You're either moved-to-life-altering-tears by director Lee Daniels' presentation of an illiterate, morbidly-obese teenager (Gabourey Sidibe) gradually dragging herself out of a nightmarishly-abusive home life with help from friends, teachers and social-workers in 1987 Harlem; or you're a heartless bastard who's either "trying" to dislike it or you just can't take the heat.

Honestly? I'm torn: What you've heard about the acting is true - Sidibe is a revelation, Mo'nique comes close to very nearly eradicating bad memories of... well, pretty much everythign she's ever done anywhere ever (seriously.. was she EVER good in ANYTHING before this?) and somehow Daniels defies all known laws of nature and wrenches a great turn out of Mariah Carey. Maybe Daniels in the wrong profession: He should be an acting coach, exclusively assigned to actresses who've previously failed to demonstrate anything resembling ability (he also produced the Halle Berry Oscar-victory piece "Monster's Ball.)

What he probably SHOULDN'T be doing is directing entire films, because everything in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" ranges from uninspiring to laughably bad. Problem numero-uno is the actual story - once you get past the sheer SCALE of the abuses heaped on Precious (you can practically hear the carnival barker: "Incest! Force-feeding! Baby tossing!") it's difficult to ignore that it's not much more than a grimier, nastier Lifetime movie; right down to Paula Patton's (to be fair, very well-acted) walking-cliche role as the saintly Alternative School teacher who takes it upon herself to rescue Precious.

More problematically, Daniels injects some fantasy/dream sequences, ostensibly representing Precious introverted escape whenever things get too intense, that play-out like bad comedy. He also indulges in ham-fisted irony, as when Precious looks at herself in a mirror and sees a blonde caucasian model instead (gee, do you think that reflection will look different by Act 3??) and a shockingly trite bit where the world-opening effects of education on Precious are visualized by spinning the camera around her and projecting a "great moments of the 20th Century" news-clip assembly onto the walls - an easy contender opposite "New Moon's" seasonal-transition bit as the year's worst use of montage. And don't get me started on the film-school-look-at-me moment where Precious imagines herself and her mother inhabiting a scene from Vittorio De Sica's "Two Women." The hell!?

There's also a few bits where the film seems (perhaps inadvertently, so just be clear I'm suggesting incompetence and not malice) to join it's villains in making fun of Precious: Moments of condescension like Precious' voice-over opining of "they talk like people on TV shows I don't watch" while sitting-in on political chatter between Patton and her partner (why does she know what it sounds like, then?) and did it really require the scene where Precious steals a bucket of fried chicken and devours it while sprinting down the street?

It's impossible not to be effected by the level of squalor on display or the tremendous performances (honestly, the actors yank the film from bad to pretty-good more or less by themselves), but as a functioning film it's DEEPLY flawed. Shower the cast with praise and statues, fine... but the placement of the film itself on any kind of "year's best" list is - at best - charity and at worst self-deception.


David said...

So in other words, textbook oscar bait? A normally unremarkable film that is held up purely on the merits of the actors sure sounds like it.

BTW, speaking of sentimental oscar bait, when are you gonna review that the blind side?

Sebastian said...

So, "Welcome to the Dollhouse" remains the best of the "Highschool is Hell"-subgenre?

Rubbav1 said...

So...you fall into the heartless bastard category then? Now I'm not saying I disapprove of your review, I am simply judging it. You use a cold, sarcastic tone that tells me that you weren't probably looking forward to seeing the movie in the first place. But, neither am I, so it's fair. Though that is probably the worst way of judging if something is fair or not, isn't it?

Either way, it looks like we have this year's "Dreamgirls", another film which I may apply the above to. But Bob next time could you please judge a melodrama as a freaking melodrama next time. You can snark about anything. That's like complaining about Dark Knight because the idea of a man in a bat suit is ridiculous.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

Bob said...

It's not a melodrama, is the thing. Melodrama implies a certain heightening of reality, "Precious" is doing it's best to be naturalistic.

My main issue is that it's main story if boilerplate saved-by-education stuff, and that the director doesn't do much to elevate it and what he DOES try to do feels forced and silly. The performances, though, are incredible to behold.

Good movie lover said...


Rubbav1 said...

Now Bob, I do wonder if the whole "saved-by-education" plot, the rape plot, and colorful use of archetypes are, or are not a sort of heighten reality but I can't judge, really well. I haven't seen many melodrama in recent years so I could be out of a reference.

Would you count "Ordinary People" as a melodrama?

Anonymous said...

Hey, Moviebob. Fuck you. This film is one of the best of 2009, AND YOU just hate it because it has a black lead. This film is freaking amazing, and you are one of the worst reviewers I even seen. I hope you take this message seriously, you overrated idiot. (It freaking amazes me that a talentless waste like you got on to Screwattack & The Escapist. Then again, Screwattack's series suck and lack quality, and The Escapist is a bland pile of crap, hammered by the fact that Crappy Punctuation is constantly on there. I friggin hate Yathzee's reviews.)

Veronica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veronica said...

As a child abuse survivor please let me assure you that none of Precious' escapist fantasies are far fetched. I could relate to practically every scene in the film and I was raised in a fairly affluent community.

Regardless, I agree that the film doesn't really stand on it's own merits.

I'm just glad it came out because it really helps me articulate my experience when necessary, to people who may not understand. It's one thing to be a survivor but to be stigmatized because of an experience I had no control over is another.

So go Precious!