Precious (2009)


No blog about cinema, especially black cinema, is complete without discussing this groundbreaking film. The story may not be the most original. We have seen time and time again the story of a down on her luck child that must overcome adversity. Hell, it’s the hero journey I just discussed.

What makes Precious different is that the hero does not complete her journey. Certain obstacles have been surmounted, yes, but largely, her life is far from ideal. When I first saw this movie, I disliked it tremendously because of the unsettling ending. After ruminating over the movie, though, I realized that I would have liked the movie significantly less if things had wrapped up nicely for Precious. Precious was never made to be a crowd-pleaser. After watching the movie, I wondered what the moral of this story was, but then I realized there wasn’t one. This movie exemplified reality, which rarely pleases crowds and always has ambiguous morals.

Every single performance in this movie was stunning, with the exception of Lenny Kravitz, whose role was just sort of extraneous. Kravitz was fine and sweet, but his friendship with the girls didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Mo’nique has been plenty celebrated and rightfully so. Watching her monster of a mother sends chills down your spine. Often times, it easy to play evil and have it degenerate into camp territory. Mo’nique, on the other hand, shows extreme restraint. Her portrayal of Precious’ mother, Mary, did not show an evil character, but rather an evil person. The difference is subtle, but it makes a huge difference in setting the tone of a movie. Heath Ledger’s Joker was definitely a character, but it fit within the superhero universe. Hannibal Lecter, Anton Chigurh and Col. Hans Landa were all evil characters that won Oscars, but each of these villains were in tense dramas and always restrained their characters so as not to overshadow the plot. Mary is in ways more evil than any of the four villains mentioned above because her character exists within our universe. It is a character whose existence we can fathom, conducting evil acts which we are convinced happen in reality. Mo’nique showed consistent greatness throughout the film, but her last scene in the counselor’s office was what cinched the deal. We got a glimpse at the psyche behind the monster and her delusional thought processes. If you want to read more about Mo’nique and the layers she reveals in the last scene, I point you to this innovative article.

While we are talking about the counselor, let it be known that Mariah Carey was completely unrecognizable in this role and showed acting skills one could not even imagine she was capable of after watching Glitter. She didn’t overshadow the leads; she played it cool and if there is one thing I love, it is huge celebrities taking minor roles within an ensemble and setting their egos to the side to contribute something to the group effort.

Finally, Gabourey Sidibe was the linchpin around which this ensemble revolved. A complete unknown before this movie, she makes acting look effortless. Ironically, I think part of the reason why she lost the Oscar to Sandra Bullock was because her work looked so effortless. Voters assumed that Sidibe was similar to Precious and that she was playing herself. It is an easy, albeit naïve, assumption to make. However, you need to watch an interview with this girl. She is the polar opposite of Precious: bubbly, funny, frank, and joyous. This is the girl who struck a pose at the Oscars during her close-up, cried when Oprah introduced her and said of Gerard Butler, “I’d hit that.” How she found it within herself to portray a girl who questions her self-worth at every single moment of her life is inconceivable. I hope she finds more work, although roles in Hollywood for women of her body type are practically non-existent. She is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend, which is a good start, though.

If you have not seen this, it is out on DVD now. Just make sure you watch it with no plans for the rest of the day because you will be too depressed to do anything afterwards. In this case, however, depression is a good thing.

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