Precious

User avatar
Eric
Tenured
Posts: 2723
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 11:18 pm
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Contact:

Postby Eric » Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:46 am

Sabin wrote:I'm pretty sure that save for the producers of Brokeback Mountain you hate Crash more than anyone else on the planet.

You'd be surprised. I personally know at least a half dozen people who also claim it to be the single worst movie ever made.

User avatar
Precious Doll
Emeritus
Posts: 3626
Joined: Mon Jan 13, 2003 2:20 am
Location: Sydney
Contact:

Postby Precious Doll » Tue Nov 17, 2009 2:22 am

I first read about this film when I received the March/April 2009 edition of Film Comment.

Film Comment usually has a couple of critics covering major film festivals with Sundance covered by Rob Nelson and Laura Kern.

Laura Kern's coverage didn't include Precious though Rob Nelson's sure did.

Here is his review:

On the dramatic side of jury prize winners in the U.S. competition, Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire (as the film was called when it premièred at Sundance) is aptly named for its fidelity to the source material and for its chief method of persuasion. Lee Daniels directs the story of a plus-size Harlem high-schooler (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) by force, drenching scenes of the pregnant heroine's rampant abuse by mother and father in hellish red light, then putting on the ritz in musical fantasy sequences that hardly relieve gthe tension between a worthy story and a director's, well, abuse of it. Never dreamed I'd say this, but Mariah Carey lends calm gravitas to her role of a tough but sweet social worker. The film, more lurid than even Daniel's Shadowboxer (never dreamed I'd say that, either), could've used more such grounding.

My comment:

Given my complete enjoyment of the truly applying Shadowboxer for all the wrong reasons (so bad, it's good), Rob Nelson's review has wetted my appetite for Nelson's latest.

I have to confess that I have been surprised at the Oscar buzz that this has been receiving since Sundance as it sounds so much like Shadowboxer stylistically, which is a film the Academy would not fall for.
“Those Koreans. They’re so suspicious, you know, ever since Hiroshima.” Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) from American Horror Story: Season One

Sabin
Tenured Laureate
Posts: 7501
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Mon Nov 16, 2009 7:31 pm

I'm pretty sure that save for the producers of Brokeback Mountain you hate Crash more than anyone else on the planet.

Precious coasted on goodwill for me throughout the first two thirds of it. It does come from a real place that just happens to be benign in intent but ruinous in execution. They're both equally wrong-headed: one in design, the other in execution.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

User avatar
Eric
Tenured
Posts: 2723
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 11:18 pm
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Contact:

Postby Eric » Mon Nov 16, 2009 4:53 pm

OK, overrated it is (almost unavoidably), but I think we can refrain from comparing it to the machine-precise ruinousness the likes of Crash. It's a mess, but at least it seems to be a mostly benign mess.

Sabin
Tenured Laureate
Posts: 7501
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:22 pm

Never mind. Geoffrey Fletcher adapted the script. Lee Daniels didn't write it. Therefore, Lee Daniels is not to blame for writing the script. Just not demanding a competent rewrite.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

Sabin
Tenured Laureate
Posts: 7501
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:48 pm

It was BJ. Two posts below me.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

User avatar
OscarGuy
Site Admin
Posts: 12579
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 12:22 am
Location: Springfield, MO
Contact:

Postby OscarGuy » Mon Nov 16, 2009 9:43 am

I don't know who it was, but I suspect it was Tee, but his prediction that Precious would be the official whipping boy of this board for the year seems to be coming to fruition.
Wesley Lovell
"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." - Benjamin Franklin

Sabin
Tenured Laureate
Posts: 7501
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Postby Sabin » Mon Nov 16, 2009 5:12 am

Very sage, Original BJ.

I do not like this movie.

At. All.

Sometimes a red flag kind of goes up during the course of a film one or two times and it takes a moment to recognize it. Precious bitch slaps you in the face with a red flag so hard ten minutes into the movie. I won't mince words: the minute Precious is first flashbacking to her rape ten minutes into the movie, I looked away. Not because the material was so emotionally painful but because Lee Daniels' choices were so uniformly awful, I couldn't bear it. Sledge Daniels continues to hyperactively direct every scene without really stopping to consider what he is doing. To wit:

Early in the film, Mo'Nique, who is quite good, screams at Sibide, who might be good had she a character to play, for what feels like minutes on end with a stream of evil, evil, EVIL dialogue. She throws something at Precious. Precious kicks it back. She then storms upstairs after Precious...

(FADE TO BLACK:)

(FADE TO:)

Mo'Nique watching I believe a workout video of some sort and limply joining in with just enough skin showing to reveal that she does not shave under her armpits. Lee Daniel is trying to juxtapose the horror of Precious' life with the spectacle of this horrible woman feebly trying to get in shape and her ugly body. The problem is that I cannot begin to laugh after what I have just seen. There are ways of deflating tension with comedy and then there are ways that you fail. Daniels has miscalculated my ability to move beyond the horror of Precious' life. Beyond his visual tactics, he has miscalculated the progression of scenes.

Now, I want to talk about the scene where Precious is raped by her father. Ten minutes into the movie, I believe, she collapses upstairs after cooking for her mother. I don't recall if this is before or after the scene I just mentioned. It all tended to blur together, so forgive me. In slow-motion, she remembers being raped, her father sliding down his pants, putting vaseline on his dick, and penetrating her, as she looks to the ceiling. The ceiling breaks away and she sees herself as a beautiful dancer on BET dancing happily. This is a fantasy within a memory so jarringly edited together that you're almost assaulted with it. Beyond this, Lee Daniels cross-cuts to eggs sizzling in a frying pan. I believe that this sequence is quite possibly the most grotesque piece of filmmaking this year for several reasons. Beyond any choices that Daniels is beyond and the filmic ethics behind them, how does it logistically make sense? If it was happening right then, I could understand cross-cutting from a rape to a fantasy to eggs, but the memory of a fantasy during a rape to eggs?

More than any movie since The Reader, Precious does not pretend to understand how memory works. Memory is sensory. In The Reader, David Kross remembers his tryst while other people are eating from outside his perspective. Lee Daniels' filmmaking is terrible at capturing Precious' perspective. He's very busy trying to be the next Scorsese or Spike that he doesn't ask what the scene requires. A scene where Ms. Rain (Paula Patton, who is painfully bland) is trying to push Precious to read the words "A Day at the Beach" on a picture of roughly the same. He uses a handheld camera to get in close to Ms. Rain's eyes and Precious' eyes before cutting back to static expository shots. Presumably Precious cannot read "Beach" and looks to the picture and assumes that it's a "Shore". So she says "Shore" and Ms. Rain corrects her. But Daniels doesn't show her looking at the picture and assuming that it is a shore. He's too busy showing off with the camera to understand what this scene is about: namely, how the educational process has taught Precious to fake getting by, and how she is being pushed to learn. There are literally countless examples where Daniels misses the mark. Like Finding Neverland pretends to be about imagination, Precious pretends to be about writing and education, but it never goes there. There are a small handful of lovely off-the-cuff seemingly-improvised scenes between Precious and the rest of her class that I enjoyed, but it doesn't change the fact that this is all painfully clichéd stuff. Now, clichés are there because they work. I don't mind cliché if it's in the hands of someone who knows how to make it work. As a director, Lee Daniels is not thinking about what's best for the scene but rather the best way to show off. As a writer, Lee Daniels is not gifted enough to write a satisfying, complete narrative such that the touching story will survive his direction. All we are left with are good intentions.

There is a way to make fantasy sequences mesh with reality, and there is a way to underscore voice-over with reality. Fuck that: there are several ways. Precious is utterly unsuccessful at both. Precious has no character arc. She talks at us but as a person we cannot see her change. Gabourney Sidibe is presumably quite good but the film is so busy using voice-over to explain what she is feeling that we never get a chance to see it. Gabourney Sidibe IS the movie's Precious, in a way: a target of abuse, projected upon more than Balthasar the donkey. Had a white man directed this film, he'd be fucking dead by now. As it is, on Oscar morning it's entirely possible that Precious will be left out in the cold. If so, it's because white voters ejected the movie on the basis of the first ten minutes which consist of an incredibly obese black girl being horrifically berated by Mo'Nique. They will say "I just didn't like it. It was cruel and I shut it off." This is an impulse that I completely understand. People will ask if voters have a bias against black films. Of course they do! But if Precious is snubbed for the Oscar, this will be the rare case of white voters having the right idea.

The one sure shot is Mo'Nique, who could potentially win. I've decided that beyond the film having no idea what to do with her, I think she's quite good. Quick tangent: I simply disliked the movie until the ending. The very moment that the film decided to end, I became disgusted. THIS is the moment that Lee Daniels wants to leave us?!? Anyway...

SPOILERS...

The penultimate scene confuses me. It begins very amusingly with social worker Mariah Carey (pretty good, honestly) quizzing Precious about what ethnicity she is. It's a scene that plays out very well. Carey leaves the scene to get her a soda. While she's gone, Precious steals presumably her file and stores it away in her bag. Carey comes back and brings up Mo'Nique who seeks to reconcile with Precious. Mo'Nique plays an incredibly weak woman who is also incredibly sad, cruel, and desperate. And real. I felt like I was watching a very real person. There is a stream-of-consciousness panic to her climactic monologue that deserves something that Lee Daniels doesn't know what to do with. In her confession about allowing Precious to be molested if only to keep her man, she bounces between self-loathing and very directed hatred at Precious that is incredibly difficult to watch. Mariah Carey keeps her on point: why did you allow the abuse to continue. There's a lot more honesty to this scene re: abuse than anything in Good Will Hunting, mind you. For all its flaws, watching Mo'Nique skirt the issue has a shit load more to say than sweater-clad Robin Williams hugging Matt Damon. Armond White a while ago made a point that black people only win Oscars for playing either saints or monsters. Mo'Nique is playing a monster but she gives the movie the only thing that can be described as real, in the way she can't help but passively lash out at Precious even in this scene at the end.

Precious takes Mongo, tells Mariah Carey that she can't help her, tells her mother she wants nothing to do with her anymore, and decides to go off and take care of her babies. Mo'Nique chases Mariah Carey around a little. And Precious walks proudly away, smiling.

This is in theory a satisfying ending. But it's not because Mo'Nique deserves something the film refuses to give her. A stronger condemnation than a walk-off that may as well be accompanied to "R-E-S-P-E-C-T". Lee Daniels refuses to acknowledge what Mo'Nique's ultimately tragic figure has put out and - as he does so many times in the film - miscalculates the note in which we can even walk away from what we've seen. *THIS* is the moment when I thirst for more understanding and this is the precise moment he doesn't want to let us in anymore...the moment a precious monster bears her soul.

Does. Not. Work.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6600
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:42 am

You've certified my every misgiving about the film.

The Original BJ
Emeritus
Posts: 4258
Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:34 am

Ladies and gentlemen, from the studio that brought you Monster's Ball and Crash, meet Precious, the UAADB's official whipping boy (girl?) of 2009.

Okay, okay, I jest...sort of. I can't confess to predicting everyone's taste around here (and certainly none of us share the same taste), but I have a slight hunch a number of people here are going to be underwhelmed by Precious, as I was. It's not that there's nothing to recommend about it -- more on those things later -- but of the big Oscar candidates I've seen this year, it's the one I'd want to root for the least.

I'll just cut to the chase and get out my big caveat with this film: it wants nothing more than for you to LOVE it, to get you to give it a great big hug, and this tactic eventually proves nearly unrelentingly manipulative. The deck is so stacked in favor of Claireece, as one misfortune after another piles up against her, that the whole film feels jerry-rigged to pull tears out of your eyes as her life goes from bad to worse to sort-of-redemption, at which point it's time for applause. For those who found Slumdog Millionaire desperate for audience affection, you ain't seen nothing yet.

This is not to say that the film sanctifies its protagonist, for which both the writing and Gabourey Sidibe's performance deserve some credit. Precious is a troubled girl, and the film thankfully makes clear that the power that results from her story (and I'll admit that the film has many moments which do achieve emotional power, however false some others might be) comes not because Precious is simply good, but because she's as prone to laziness, violent outbursts, and immaturity as much as anyone put in her situation might be. I liked Sidibe's naturalism and her sense of humor, and was moved by her big breakdown, but ultimately I think hers is a limited performance. She doesn't show much range, and although it's a nice breakthrough, I didn't exactly get the star-is-born vibe I did with Carey Mulligan's far richer turn. (Although here I'd have to admit that there's something troubling about thinking there might be more great performances down the road from the new actress who's thin, white, and glamorous, but not the one who's overweight, black, and unattractive, since the opportunities for one are clearly so much greater than the other.)

I also have to take issue with the film's most praised element -- the character of the mother. I guess I should qualify this by saying that I have nothing negative to say about Mo'Nique. She embodies her role with force and gusto, and then has a penultimate scene that she absolutely knocks out of the park. She's great. The problem? I'm not sure the film really knows what to do with this character. A lot of the early scenes play up Mary as Monster Mom, but at times the writing and directing push the character into caricature. I've thankfully never been in a situation of abuse like this, but some of this woman's actions seemed to border on ludicrous...most especially in retrospect, after her "sympathetic" scene at film's end. Now, I think it's admirable to introduce an element of humanity here, to complicate this character in the way the film does, so that we see her as her own person with plenty of her own problems. For me, the problem was that I had trouble buying it, particularly given her actions earlier in the film. I'm supposed to believe this woman really does love her daughter? After she threw a television on top of her from the top of the stairs, among plenty of other things?

What's more, the film's anticlimax really troubles this depiction of the mother. (Nothing major is revealed, but I guess this counts as entering spoiler territory, so I'll just say it upfront.) Why has the film been structured to climax with Mo'Nique's big moment? Why don't we end on Precious's sort-of triumph? (Technically, the last shots end on her, but I felt we were really robbed of Claireece's catharsis after this big scene.) Is it simply to stick it to the character the audience has hated the entire film? To hand the film even further to Mo'Nique in her big showcase role? For me, it threw a lot of the film off balance, and left me wondering what the film wanted me to think about Mary -- am I supposed to feel sorry for her? To still despise her and root for Precious? I'm not sure at all.

Along with Sidibe and Mo'Nique, the rest of the cast does solid work. Paula Pattons does nice work as the teacher, and Mariah Carey, of all people, is surprisingly good in her role.

I found Lee Daniels's direction the weakest aspect of the film. The fantasy sequences didn't really work for me -- I didn't feel like they added much as they went on throughout the film beyond indicating that Precious wanted out of her life, and to escape in a glamorous fantasy world, which I got from scene one. I didn't need a bunch more of those (though I did like the Italian movie sequence, which was pretty funny.) And the silly cut-aways (to sizzling eggs!) during a dramatic sequence recall those awful bird cage cutaways during the sex scene in Monster's Ball.

This film did really well at the box-office this weekend, and my audience burst into applause at the end of the film, so I have no doubt that this film is going to be a major player this awards season. Plus, Oprah's on board, and we know what happens when she gets behind a movie. Anyone want to bet that this is Ebert's #1 film of the year?


Return to “2009”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest