Monday, December 21, 2009
Should you see "Precious"?
"Precious" is a movie that has been getting quite a bit of buzz over the last few months. People are talking about newcomer Gabourey Sidibe and her portrayal of Precious, a poor, obese teen in Harlem in 1987. They are talking about comedienne Monique's revelation of a performance as Precious' sadistic and abusive mother. And they are talking about Mariah Carey's surprisingly competent job of playing a social worker and doing it without any makeup. This movie is also getting a lot of awards attention having been nominated for Best Picture-Drama at the Golden Globes, as well as both Sidibe ad Monique receiving nods. It is believed, especially where the field has been expanded to 10 movies for Best Picture, the movie and actors will be nominated for Academy Awards. I recently saw "Precious" and will say it's a very good movie, with excellent performances and I am happy I saw it. However, I don't know if I can or should tell you to see it.
I know how ridiculous that may sound. I saw this great movie, it's getting all this positive attention, how can I say I liked it and not recommend it? Well it's complicated.
For most people, a movie is an escape. It's a way to break away from the mundane activities of life and watch a story of something extraordinary. Like watching giant blue cat people on a fictional planet fighting human controlled robots. It's also a way to cheer you up when you are feeling down. Like watching two men sneak their way into weddings and sleep with random guests while using aliases. And sometimes it's seeing a story of someone from meager beginnings rise to the top of their field. Like watching an undersized defensive end get the hell beaten out of him during countless practices only to make it on the field at the end of his last game and record a sack.
These are movies, and they make us cheer, they make us laugh and we remember the best moments. It's not a coincidence that when I was in Vegas this Fall I heard 20 different people say "This isn't the real Caesar's Palace, is it?" And I didn't even stay at Caesar's Palace. The point is movies are entertainment and they are mostly designed to obviously entertain us and for many people that's all they are looking for.
Precious does not do any of these things. The ending is uplifting, but not nearly enough to make up for the rest of the absolute hell this poor girl is put through her entire life. And it's not enough for when you walk out of the theater or shut off your DVD player for you to smile and be content. This movie will not entertain you and that's okay because that's not the point.
A movie can also do something besides entertain, it can educate and make you think of something from a different perspective you never considered before. Obviously documentaries are a prime example, but there are plenty of regular movies that can do so as well. I studied the Holocaust in high school and I read "Night" by Elie Wiesel. The scope of this tragic time in history never really hit me as hard as it should have until I saw "Schindler's List", a great movie that I doubt many could say was very "entertaining". And that is the other power movies have. To show people something that never would have had the same effect if they'd just read about or never even thought about it in the first place.
This is where the power of "Precious" lies and it's what makes it such a great movie. I'm a white male from a middle class suburban family that was skinny in high school. I could not have less in common with this character and to tell you the truth I never really thought about what it would be like for someone like her. That's what I liked about this movie though, it made me think and deeply care about a character who has many real life counterparts that I had never given a second thought about. I'm not saying the movie caused me to become an activist or anything like that, but just that I considered what it would be like to be this person and how tough she has it, shows how powerful a movie this.
So why wouldn't I recommend it? Because this movie is TOUGH to get through. This girl's life is something you would not wish on your worst enemy. She is molested by her father and has two kids from him. There's a scene of this abuse that is reason enough for me to never recommend someone seeing this movie. I mean how could you really tell a person that's something they should see? She's overweight and is verbally and physically abused by her mother who treats her as if she "stole" her man from her. One of her children has down syndrome. She's been suspended from school for getting pregnant for the second time. Her life is quite literally a living hell to the point she often fantasizes about herself in glamorous situations as an escape. Now she does end up attending an alternative school and finds a teacher who believes in her (Paula Patton, another strong performance), which sounds formulaic but is well done enough that it does not feel like you've seen it a million times before. Lenny Kravitz also shows up as a nurse who helps deliver Precious' second baby and makes it a toss up for which musician gives the better performance, Kravitz or Carey. Precious eventually gets her life close to turned around and as I said the ending is somewhat uplifting. But the ending doesn't stick with you for the next few days like the first 90 minutes do, which is another reason I find it difficult to tell someone to see this movie.
One thing I also found really sad as I watched "Precious" was the great performance Sidibe gave. This young actress did an outstanding job and is getting numerous nominations and attention. However, I couldn't help think how few roles like this there would be in Sidibe's future. She clearly has the talent, but how many movies have you seen with obese African-American women stars that are not comedies? This is no fault of Sidibe's, but more a sad commentary that this actress might not be in high demand after what should be a star making role.
I am glad I saw "Precious" and I think it was a very well done movie. I think the performances were a key part of the quality of the film, as anything less would have made the movie a lot more traumatic and not as redeeming. At the end of the day I would say if you're someone who only seeks entertainment from movies and only wants to watch them as an escape then feel free to skip "Precious", you will not walk away happy from it. However, if you're someone who likes movies that are on a higher level, movies looking to educate, movies that don't always give the happy ending wrapped up in a nice big bow then I would definitely recommend "Precious".