Precious: A Successful Push Against Convention

11 02 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire has earned both critical and audience praise. A small independent film, Precious picked up momentum after being screened at the Sundance Film Festival. It was here that Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry first saw the film, subsequently deciding to help fund distribution. With 6 Oscar nominations, Precious is a strong competitor for top awards. Here’s the breakdown:

16-year-old Claireece Precious Jones is an illiterate, obese, black girl living in 1987 Harlem. Her mother, Mary, is living off welfare and scathingly abusive, physically, emotionally, verbally and sexually. Precious’ father is not around, except to rape her…leaving Precious with two children. Precious must handle the responsibilities of motherhood while working toward an education at an alternative school, Each One Teach One.

The Monkey: Reading the novel, one would think this story is impossible to translate to film. The book is written from Precious’ point of view, complete with misspelled words and confusing grammar. Geoffrey S. Fletcher did an incredible job adapting this soulful story to the big screen; he most definitely deserves his Oscar nomination.

With a solid script to work from, director Lee Daniels has created a tale that rings true on every level. Difficult decisions had to be made for this film – how far would the abuse go on-screen? Who would be cast? Daniels proved his ability as director by making every right decision. The abuse, while some may see as gratuitous, held true to the book without pushing the viewer out of the theatre. The casting was superb; critics were concerned with his choice of Mo’Nique for the abusive Mary and Mariah Carey for the role of a sympathetic social worker. Previously, Mo’Nique had only been known for her B-rated comedy bits and Carey’s acting career was still smarting from her mega-flop, Glitter. But the choices were spot-on and Mo’Nique has been collecting acting awards left and right. And deservedly so – her loathsome portrayal of an abusive mother is almost painful to watch; yet, towards the end of the film, Mo’Nique is able to squeeze sympathy out of the viewer…while not forgiven, she becomes a bit more understood, an impressive feat and one that warrants the highest acting accolades. Daniels’ discovery of first-timer Gabourey Sidibe was inspired. Her performance is perfectly understated and heart-rending; it’s too bad her Best Actress Oscar nomination will most likely be overlooked.

The film uses “dream sequences” cleverly (much more effectively than similar sequences in this year’s The Lovely Bones); it could have easily come off cheesy, but Daniels uses these few light-hearted moments to give the viewer a quick breath before plunging back into the dark subject matter.

Despite the film’s darkness, the viewer is not left without hope. The film, at its core, is about hope and the possibility for a better life.

The Weasel: This film deals with such horrible abuse and violence, audiences don’t know what to make of it. Seeing Precious in theatres, it’s clear that the broad viewing audience isn’t ready to see what’s on-screen. Precious is not a popcorn-munching, night-out-at-the-movies kind of film. Because of that, theatre viewing is not the best forum to watch this movie. Audiences react with awkward laughter during some of the film’s most emotional moments…why? Because they don’t know what else to do. While this is not a critique of the film, it is the biggest complaint I have about the viewing experience. The filmmakers were unappologetic in their depiction of Precious’ story…audiences just aren’t quite sure what to do with it.

One of the best films of the year and a truly exquisite adaption. I have no doubt, had there only been five Best Picture nominees, Precious would have made the cut.

4.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Does Mo’Nique deserve all the attention for her performance? How was your theatre audience experience? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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