Saturday, March 6, 2010

Precious 2009

A message of hope for troubled times. Love, in this case by the teenage overweight Afro-American teenager from the unprivileged sections, for her two children, is a force which can generate the will to overcome adversities, in this case a childhood of physical and emotional abuse.

Hitchcock once said he had done his best to put murder where it rightfully belongs: the home. The kind of psychotic domestic inferno described in the film, where life itself may be constantly at risk, objects flying and blows suddenly raining for no reason (a home is an arsenal of lethal weapons), is a reality and the author of the novel may have based herself on such a real life experience. To have emerged from this in one piece physically and spiritually would be an extraordinary and rare victory of a human being in a stormy voyage of life.

For the rest, it is pretty much staple twice told melodrama, for all it's edifying qualities. The dilineation of characters resorts to garish primary colors, and the stereotyping of the good, bad and ugly is tiresomely familiar. The film virtually orders you to have the expected responses (or else) placing few demands on your intelligence and  imagination. It has little to add to the discourse on the human condition. One can but dutifully exclaim, "How sad! How brave!".

Gabourey Sidibe in the main role does her assignment with  restraint and dignity. Mo'Nique as the mother also gives a powerfull histrionic performance, leaving one somewhat dumbfounded by a fluency of invective or self-justification. The final encounter of mother and daughter where the mother is stripped of irrational defenses and the daughter has traveled far beyond, is a memorable one.

A sentimental run of the mill film destined for a short heyday of commercial success. It will serve a purpose by hopefully inspiring people in comparable dillemas. After all it is not fair to fault a product for that which it never claimed to be or have. And you can't fault it for being obscure or over-subtle.

It makes me salivate for the novel.


Seongyong Cho said...

Some people said to me there are two ways of storytelling in case of drama genre. One is pulling you quietly and effortlessly into story and characters, and the other is gripping you immediately and then trying to manipulate your feelings. Whichever way filmmakers choose, it always depends on how they do in chosen method. When they don't succeed, it is either complete bore or obnoxious crap in the worst case.

"Precious" took No.2 route and it does well. Basically story is just your average feel-good movie, but the movie is so intensive and uncompromising that several moments actually made me wince. And, like you said, the performances are superb and Sidibe and Mo'Nique give some of best performances of last year. Maybe they're stereotypes, but they are unforgettable ones like characters from "Crash", and strong contrast between characters fuels and drives the story powerfully.

While watching final encounter scene, my reaction reminded me of Tarantino's reaction on "Oldboy". He said he wondered why he shedded tears for such a cruel villain during its climax, What I felt is similar to that, although I can't forgive her cruelty.

S M Rana said...

It is certainly an engrossing story. It's approach as you say is channel 2, to shock the viewer. It's too spicy, more like Mexican cooking than French. Sidibe gives a convincing portrayal as a miraculously unbroken spirit who has endured unimaginable things right since infancy. Maybe calls for a second view. But it does give me the feeling of a rather excessive assault on one's senses, working on you at a superficial level. How different was the approach in "Memories of Murder"! At least "Precious" seems in no danger of getting the Oscar for best direction.

Literary Dreamer said...

Well, it got that at the Independent Spirit Awards, but Kathryn Bigelow will win the directing Oscar for the more subtle route in The Hurt Locker.

I wonder, S.M., if your reaction to this film will change with time. After all, when Silence of the Lambs came out, many critics denounced it as being too violent and/or glorifying mass murderers. At the time, it was shocking to watch, but if you were to watch it today, the shock gives way to some great storytelling and acting.

And, to be honest, I enjoy it when a director assaults my senses, so long as he or she doesn't manipulate my emotions in an obvious manner (like using the orchestra to tell me what to feel). Of course, seeing a girl being abused by her mother will invoke a certain response in the audience, but if Precious were not in such a dire situation, then we--as an audience--would not be as emotionally elevated by her successes, because we would have no idea how hard-won they are.

S M Rana said...


I was thinking about your view of the movie. Claireece's ability to transcend the knowledge that she carries the deadly virus, that her existence itself is touch and go, betokens unusual inner resource, and that she has travelled far in her evolution as a person. And that she learns to see herself in the mirror of literary creation is also a point worth noting (all experience, however painful, becomes grist for the literary mill).

Bresson's "Mouchette" and "Balthazar" are also stories about abused teenagers but the approach is very different, less raucous but more compassionate and hence more effective. Bresson tries to rearch out something that already exists in the hearts and minds of us, the audience. In "Precious" it is as though something is being injected or plastered onto our mind. In fact, I even feel slightly guilty faulting the story about a heroic youngster which moreover, I suspect, may be based on a real life experience with which the novelist became familiar.

I always found "Silence of the Lambs" to be a great film, because it is able to humanise a monstrously deformed creature, and for the picture of living hell, from the POW of the victims it projects. It was an artistic film.

Rather than any fault of the film, Ithink maybe "Precious" is just not my genre, at least currently.

Still, I'm half inclined to see it agaain, because who doesn't enjoy a bit of the lurid, and a moderate helping of perversion, once in a while, rather than riding the high horse all the time.

Plum said...

I really like your review, I think the movie was really well acted but a little too obvious too, especially towards the end. If you read the book, please tell us what you thought of it.

Don't Be a Plum