Monday, 8 February 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2010)


Plot Summary: In Harlem, an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enrol in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.

I’ll be honest; I usually find it very hard to invest in films such as Precious. Films that try so very obviously to throw as many shocking and horrible scenarios at the audience turn me off and I find their attempt so see-through and laboured that I cannot connect with the characters on any level. However, due to the level of praise Lee Daniels’s new film has garnered I found it hard to ignore and I’m glad I gave it a chance. Precious, despite some glaring technical missteps is in fact a thoroughly moving and engaging film about an important topic not often given appropriate attention.

The Precious of the title, played by Gabourey Sidibe, is the heart and soul of the movie. She carries the film, and it is on her merits that the film depends. Thankfully, Sidibe plunges face-first into the (emotionally dense and highly self-deprecating) role, not merely acting as Precious, but becoming her. In fact, Sidibe’s performance is so believable that it’s hard to believe this was, at the time, her first acting gig. Precious, despite her background, is not the most likeable of characters but Sidibe brings a tenderness and optimism to the role which (along with a surprisingly bearable narration) helps keep audiences on her side. The acting on display in Precious is sublime from start to finish with inspired casting of supporting characters from Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey and yes, even Lenny Kravitz.

Indeed, without such an astonishingly strong cast of actors the film wouldn’t carry half the emotional punch it delivers. The film’s plot delves into some very dark places and deals with issues revolving around broken families (unconventional doesn’t even begin to cover it), the state benefit system and African-American working class life in an insightful and affecting manner without ever becoming too preachy. While the film deals with issues that many would rather ignore it never feels like a lecture and acts as a powerful reminder of how wrong things can when people are pushed to the edges of society. Consequently, and particularly towards the end of the film, things get extremely heavy, providing some of the most emotionally difficult and moving cinema I have experienced for a long while.

Nevertheless, there are numerous technical misgivings which undercut much of the drama on display and, to an extent, ruin what could have been one of the year’s finest films. Formally, the film plays with a lot of different styles which sometimes pay off, but mostly fall flat. For instance, the use of Precious’s fantasy scenes were an understandable decision but were often cut into the action rather abruptly. The editing of these scenes felt awkward and misplaced, continually taking us out of the moment at all the wrong times. Some of these stylistic choices, such as when Precious looks into the mirror and sees a skinny white girl, are artfully implemented but most seem overwhelming and tacked-on.

Additionally, a cheap use of slow motion occurs whenever Precious is physically abused by others, removing the impact of the violence and ultimately coming off as cheesy when the film should be at its most traumatic. The placing and choice of music is also often bizarre and off-putting. It rarely seems to adequately match the atmosphere of the scene it accompanies. Regardless, Precious still manages comes off as a highly engaging experience, and one which I would highly recommend to anyone who is even remotely interested in the social issues it raises.

Final Verdict: 7/10

1 comment:

Robert Beames said...

Great review. Covers a lot of the same ground as mine in half the length, which is a good skill.

I mostly agree with everything you wrote.