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- 1001 Club - Rain Man (1988)
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Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009)
The most Precious is the time I wish I hadn't wasted.
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe (“The Big C” • Tower Heist), Mo'Nique (“The Parkers” • Soul Plane)
Directed By: Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer)
Overview: The story of a 16 year-old Harlem girl trying to make something of herself against all odds.
Quickly, because I have much ranting to get on with, Precious is a 16 year-old morbidly obese girl who lives in 1987 Harlem. She’s pregnant with the second child of her father’s incest-rape, the first one having been born with Down Syndrome and she lives with her extremely abusive mother. Because of her pregnancy, she’s kicked out of public school and thanks to a caring teacher, begins attending alternative education to obtain her GED. In short, Precious is the story of a victim of poverty, education, abuse and incest and if you don’t think it can can't get much worse from there, you’d be wrong. I’m not referring to the kind of suffering that comes from mawkish, maudlin storylines and overproduced cinematography with their own sound effects - though there is much of that - what I’m referring to is the dartboard of pain that the book’s author, Sapphire, must have had set up on her wall when she was devising all the ways she could curb-stomp her corpulent title character in her ham-fisted story’s outline.
There are a few enjoyable things to note. Mariah Carey is stellar, almost unrecognizable as the makeup-less Ms. Weiss, social worker extraordinaire. Her character restrains herself from getting too involved in Precious’ personal life, but it’s obvious that even this hardened social worker is shocked at the tales of our corpulent character. Paula Patton, in the role of alternative school teacher Ms. Rain is another astounding performance. She was someone I could appreciate, some humanity that wasn't wasted. I felt that both these roles needed far more mention than Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Mo'Nique. Another positive is how the storyline goes beyond a simple slice-of-life character study. There’s a real plot with real forward movement, and though the events that transpire from scene to scene are often laughable, building up an ever-growing Jenga tower of anguish that teeters more with every passing scene, at least the story goes somewhere, which makes watching Precious: A Ridiculously Long Title Which Includes The Original Book Name And Also The Book’s Author’s Name In Case You Were Curious, less tedious, but no less pretentious, than its epic title. I was also rather impressed with “the system” and how each authority figure was human and caring. The teachers, Precious’ nurse (Lenny Kravitz), and her social worker were all people genuinely dedicated to their jobs. Though it seemed a little bit forced that not a single person working in the system wasn’t jaded, I believed it.
Unfortunately that’s it. The rest of Precious is a disaster from set to lens to post-production and I’m going to really enjoy telling you why. Let us begin with the cinematography. Messy camera-jostles emulating a cinema-vérité style during pointed questions in the principal’s office only serve to pull us out of the moment. In scenes where Precious recalls abuse and incest in her memory, the cinematography attempts an artistic transition of present-stovetop to past-incest and psychological-escape-through-the-cracked-ceiling-and-back in a swirl of special effects that I found reminiscent of my favorite computer-enhanced scenes in Fight Club, only while watching them in Precious I laughed out loud at how poorly they were done. These effects were frequent, each worse than the last, whether to symbolize a passage of time, of photographs talking back to our titular character: Originally Conceptualized By Sapphire, Who Wrote This Character In A Book, Did You Know? or when going into Precious’ fantastical world. Not being a fan of Musicals, I immediately resisted those escapist fantasy scenes where Precious dreams of a better life, of being famous, of being thin and blonde and white. The oversaturated MTV effects were appropriately garish to enhance the imaginative moments, but tore away a real, gritty cinematographic aesthetic – making it bubbly and bright – and though done on purpose, was not appreciated, but that’s my Musicals issue peeking through. You might find the juxtaposition interesting. The piece de resistance just plain old made me mad: still early on in the film, the camera pans down over her lazy mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), hand down her pants, relaxing in a recliner. Did I hear the addition of a distinctive “Woosh” sound? Yes, the camera wooshes from overhead down to mom’s crotch, as though Mo'Nique were some enormous sci-fi mothership that needed cameras rocketing around it from orbit. Let me just say that I rarely look up cinematographers to help make sure I don’t see more of their work. Thanks for making it easier, Andrew Dunn (The Bodyguard • Crazy, Stupid, Love). On-set problems are frequent too: one scene clearly shows a cubicle wall wiggling, moved by clumsy gaffers. Another extended scene shows several shots of an intercom conversation, the camera focused on Precious mashing the machine’s ‘Talk’ and ‘Listen’ buttons – but they’re out of synch, to the point of being infuriatingly distracting, given the camera is filling three-quarters of the frame with those intercom buttons – way too sloppy for a $10 million production, wouldn't you say?
After everything, even I will tend to forgive these awkward moments in the name of capital ‘F’ film, but when I think about the story itself… maybe it's my age, maybe it's my need for nuance, but I found Mo'Nique’s Mary to be a ridiculous caricature that I laughed at in nearly every scene she was in. Mary is an angry farce, an angry slob and an angry imbecile too stupid to even be a waste of life, with one singular dimension and never a redeeming moment. Her big climactic speech is a horrible twisted moronic nightmare. Did I mention she was angry? Precious too deserves little sympathy. Being a victim, she spends her time endearing herself to us by being a doormat, by being violent to her peers, or by being a tubby thief of grease-fried chicken buckets. I gave right up when I learned what she named her Down Syndrome child: Mongo, short for mongoloid. Dear, Sweet Jesus. Having no interesting or compelling main characters to follow... well that tends to ruin a film for one.
I’m torn between knowing perfectly well how Precious got to the Oscars - what with its grand speeches and human drama - and being downright flabbergasted at how this manipulative over-tragic idiocy ever came close to getting near a red carpet. With extremely pretentious visuals that constantly reminded me of Stan Lee superhero histrionics and a story that bludgeons you into disbelief, Precious is a truly pitiful addition to the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book.
On the upside, it's wonderful when you can really enjoy feeling your blood boil when you watch this sort of mainstream garbage and feel like you know better.
Performance: 7 Cinematography: 4 Script: 7 Plot: 5 Mood: 5
Overall Rating: 56% (Worthless)
Good Job Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, you almost beat out Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan for most ridiculous title on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Wait, that was a joke. Yours wasn’t. Good for you.