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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Movie Review: Precious (2009)

Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sheri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $63 million

Plot: In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enrol in an alternative school, in the hopes that her life can head in a new direction

'Raises So Many Questions, However Daniels's Answers Are Mostly In Vain' 

Lee Daniels's film in Precious, courtesy of the backing by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry made huge waves at the Sundance Festival back in 2009 and it was hyped to the max and was hailed by a number of movie critics. 

Clareace 'Precious' Jones is 16 years old and an underprivileged teen, who lives in squalor in a Harlem apartment she shares with her abusive mother, has a light-skinned boyfriend of whom her mother disapproves, is overweight, she was raped by her mother's boyfriend and ended up giving birth to their child, and now she's pregnant with their second child. You couldn't make this up - no, scratch that, it is made up and it is all based on fiction. But still, this is harrowing stuff, nevertheless; certainly, these elements were a stark reminder of how sad and desolate this film is. After enrolling in a special school, Precious plans to turn her life around for herself and to see it as her ticket out of her dire situation. For 1 hr, 50 mins, the film is not devoid of events and scenes occurring in Precious Jones's life in Precious. From stealing food in a fried chicken shop, throwing up afterwards, being hit with a frying pan aimed by her mother and being sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend. The movie's title seems to set up Precious Jones as this special person. The film's trailer gives off the impression that this would be a film of inspirational hope and sappiness. But in fact, it's far from it, but it is also not quite the mawkish and moody film it has been touted as. 

There is a tone that evokes a viciousness and verging on the state of being morbid and the film treads a middle ground. The language in the incessant usage of B-words and F-words is harsh, there is a scene where Precious is at a fried chicken shop, steals a bucket of chicken and runs off. A scene that many people will find insulting and which reinforces stereotypes of Blacks and African-Americans, as well as the scene where Precious finds out she has AIDS. The Black & White Minstrel Show and days of Birth of A Nation are clearly over - if this was a White director in charge who had scenes where Blacks were stealing and eating fried chicken, or a black girl being raped by her faceless monster of a father, there would be an uproar in the Black community. Had Precious also had a bottle of Kool-Aid and a piece of watermelon on her, that would have really riled people up. Precious was no angel, but of course, that doesn't excuse the level of physical abuse she had gone through. Although most people were also taken aback by how all the light-skinned characters here were depicted as 'saviours' and for rescuing Precious, a poor Black teen from her situation. Me personally, I didn't think much of this accusation, because I didn't pay much attention to it. 

The story is unreal and as fictional as it is, the performances by the likes of Mon'ique and Mariah Carey are what saves this film from being forgettable because the direction of this film is too one-dimensional and hardly thought-provoking & there is little depth evoked. As much as it tries to be like that. Character development is barely minimal, as Lee Daniels seeks to rely on shock scenes and of Precious's sad, sorry and unfortunate predicament to drum up interest. I don't think the film has enough respect for the main character. 

This is an emotionally manipulative movie that plays on the audiences' emotions and seeks to extract that out of us, but of which it does this by confirming and exploiting the very stereotypes that Blacks and African Americans and ethnic minorities have been rallying against, for years. To say Precious dispels racist stereotypes is an underestimation. I can now see why some Blacks were offended by this film - Lee Daniels tries to fool audiences into making us feel sorry for Precious, which to some extent we, or I do: it's the intent of Daniels to rely on sob stories, as well as rather demeaning racist cliches associated with, or be it people link African Americans and Blacks in general with, that really upset a lot of people. & understandably, they had every right to make that clear. 

I also felt that in some ways, even though this film is about the lead character, most of the time, Precious's human side just wasn't fully explored and addressed properly; but for all her dreams, aspirations, self-image, her poor living conditions, I came away from this film thinking that Lee Daniels and the screenwriter dropped the ball with this aspect & they didn't do more with it, even though I wanted to know more about this character. 

But still, this movie was still compelling to watch for the performances, more than for any other reason. 

Despite Mariah Carey and Monique's impressive performances, Precious is lacking in identity as a film and feels very ordinary and the revelationary storyline that the film was alluding to, just wasn't that mind-blowing. Add to that also, the editing in this movie is muddled and sloppily done. Thankfully, it ended nicely and as I'd had envisioned it to be. 

Final Verdict

To say I was moved throughout or in places during this movie is something I'd disagree with. I never felt that way as I sat through Precious. The exaggerations were cartoonish and the writer and the director did go a bit overboard with this one. I'd also question its best picture nomination at the Sundance Festival, but then again, I've always been in two minds over award ceremonies & the films they opt for, anyhow. Withstanding all of this, I cannot deny that this film was watchable, as much as I do question some or most of the aspects and flaws of it. 

Had it not been for the impressive performances, the film would never have warranted all the attention it had received, I suppose. 

For Precious, it's a movie that tries to get a reaction out of audiences and to play the sympathy card, rather than making strides towards a more thorough and less abrasive narrative. 


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