Best Picture Profile: Precious

Directed by: Lee Daniels

Company: Lionsgate / Lee Daniels Entertainment

Runtime: 109 minutes

.

The film is about Clareece “Precious” Jones, an obese sixteen years old junior high school in Harlem that is on her second pregnancy to her father. She basically cannot read or write, at least intelligently. Even then, she was able to reach junior high school. When a school officer talks to her about her second pregnancy, she hears of the alternative learning program called “Each One, Teach One”. She doesn’t funny understand the concept of it, but she knows it could help her.

However, her terrifying and abusive mother Mary disapproves her plan to attend the school, as she believes that she is a useless fat bitch, and what she only needs to do is to go to the welfare. She experiences several abuse from her, but that never stops her from going there, as she has a dream.

In attending the class, she meets her lesbian teacher, Ms. Rain. She is instantly inspired by Ms. Rain and sees her as a role model that she could be to obtain her dreams. Here, she was able to express her dreams for her and for her child. But even then, her mother just hates her.

She gives birth to her child, and the whole class are happy for her. She goes home, but Mary still rejects her and threatens to kill her. As she wants to keep her child safe, she goes to Ms. Rain and lives there. She soon finds out that she is HIV positive, but Ms. Rain never stops caring for her.

As the climax of the film ensues, Mary now meets with Precious and Ms. Weiss, a social worker that has been Precious for almost a year already.  She is also the first one to discover the incest that happened to Precious and her father, causing her the two children that she bore. Mary wants to get her family back, but it is up to Precious whether she would give in to her or not, as she already learned how to live far from her mother.

I agree that this film is an emotional powerhouse, but not necessarily flawless, though.

The direction is full of ups and downs, mostly ups, but the downs are sometimes more memorable than the ups. The direction goes for over, as if it is obviously directed by someone. The fantasy scenes alone represent the weakness of the film, as the direction adds several unnecessary details that just distract the flow of this. Of course, the intentions are good – for us to see what Precious aspires, and for us to see a wider range of acting from Sidibe. But they are so noisy and stylized that you just want to skip those parts. One thing that I don’t like in a film is overdirection because it is just irritating to see.

But this doesn’t mean that I hated the direction. Its choice to go over is a misstep but it is already forgivable when we already go to the real dramatic scenes. Here, the direction gets the raw acting that it could get, particularly from Mo’Nique and Sidibe. It is when the direction really recovers from its previous faults. It brings us there, in Precious’ position. Some scenes are just emotionally strangling for me because the direction was able to put Mary into dominance, and with the perfectly decorated house of them, you feel confinement. There is emotional claustrophobia going on with Precious, and every time she’s in the house, she’s in danger. And the direction strongly holds that.

Also, the direction gives a sense of freedom in development as Precious starts to go into class. There is a striking difference when she first entered class and the preceding classes. It’s on how the direction handles those scenes that there is progress in her on her way to freedom. The film is emotionally dark, and the realities that the film handled by the direction is mostly hard to look at, but it’s all worth it when the film ends, thanks for the very good direction. Too bad it was damaged by those fantasy scenes, though.

The screenplay is not necessarily perfect, but I can’t deny that it is very emotionally rich and textured. The composition of Precious’ character through the words that she says are hard to watch and listen, as they are hints to what really happened to her life, but it does give hope for us who have seen it and makes us thankful for the life that we had. Precious is not manipulative or preachy in terms of its way of presenting the title character. The lead has flaws: she is aggressive, she has a foul mouth, she is a loser. But all of these makes her real.

It doesn’t even try to make Precious a saint. She’s presented as a victim, but a victim that is so full of unsympathetic characteristics that, if not handled well by the screenplay, we may hate her. But no, the screenplay uses her to present the effects of abuse and her surroundings. With these, we care for her, and we want her to have a better life, as she wants a better life for her children, too.

Also, the screenplay uses several stereotypes to create characters that we see everyday, and characters that are real. The slutty chick, the illegal immigrant, the strong-willed teacher – of course, we have seen this before. But these people are here for a cause. They are not just placed to fill the space with actors, they are used to create a world, a world that Precious lives in, a world that we can live in. And also, I would like to comment those lines that comes out from Mary. They are all lines filled with meat in it, filled with nuance that she just controls us and never lets go of it.

However, I also found the flaw of the screenplay in Mary. She’s the abusive mom, and she has got a lot of terrific lines to deliver, and I lie those lines. And that’s the problem for me. Mary’s character is just a set of line deliveries. Mo’Nique was terrific, but the writing frequently lets her character down to a stereotype that you just hate. Of course, I felt something for her, I hated her. But as Mo’Nique tries to make a living character with full dedication with her scenes, the screenplay makes her two-dimensional. I’m sorry, but that’s how I see it.

The cinematography uses handheld cameras at times, with those frequent fast zooms, and I like that, most of the time. It’s like being there, and it creates the tension in Precious, but for a few scenes, it gets a bit distracting. Anyway, it’s forgivable because I like how the cameras were used here.

The editing is a success. It’s not the editing’s fault that we have those silly fantasy scenes, but looking at it alone, it’s really accomplished, editing-wise. Also, in the conversation and confrontation scenes, the editing makes it a thrill to watch. The editing knows it is an actors’ movie, and it embraces that by using several cuts for us to see the actors’ characterization of the roles. I like that.

The music is okay, if again, distracting. There some scenes that I wish that there were no more music or at least, a better music. The movie uses a lot of songs that most of the time, diverts our attention from the scene to the music itself.

And amidst all those imperfections, we have the stellar powerhouse cast of this film.

Mariah Carey and Paula Patton provide very strong performances as Ms. Rain and Ms. Weiss, respectively. Patton brandishes her acting skills to create a cool, smart, and respectable character. She is an image of authority, but also of kindred, and with her gentle face, she was able to do just that. She has a soft physical appearance, but there is the strong woman in her. The backstory in her character is very well-represented in her dramatic scenes. She lives up to the intensity that she faces because of Precious.

Meanwhile, Carey is surprisingly remarkable in her shorter role as Ms. Weiss. In her few scenes before the climax of the film, she creates a solid foundation in her character. She is a trustworthy woman that is tough when needed, but definitely approachable. The voice sticks in me, and I love how she tries to suppress the overpowering presence of Mo’Nique in the confrontation scene. She holds her grip firmly and she knows that it’s Mary’s fault that Precious had all of her problems, but she can’t stand the fact that she was, in a way, a victim of circumstances. She is unstable and she cannot take it. But she won’t let herself be affected by Mary’s hypocrisy. It’s a terrific performance from Carey.

Mo’Nique gives a perfectly shattering performance. She is not simply a bad momma. As what I have said a while ago, she was, in a way, a victim of circumstances. She cannot take it seeing her man who is supposed to make love to her is making love to her daughter. It devastates her character, and I believe, she wouldn’t have abused Precious if not because of that. But in the start of the film, she appears to be normal. But whenever she attacks and shouts and verbally assaults Precious, she makes us know that she doesn’t do that by free will, she does it because she is already emotional unstable and she doesn’t have the capacity to carry that dilemma on her. She registers so much on her character in those scenes which are ultimately elemental to the film.

She doesn’t want Precious to learn because she doesn’t believe that she’s ever going to learn even something. But the fact is, she doesn’t want Precious to be better. It’s her sort of revenge to her because of the jealousy that had been implanted on her. But she’s not just a destructive monster. She gives herself the time to be the one that she wants to be – to be happy. She believes in herself, and she knows she is not satisfied by living that life, so she makes temporary escapes in her life by dancing in front of the television with tight clothes, by masturbating, by hitting Precious.

All of this somewhat makes her a character, but Mo’Nique does her best to create something full. In every scene that she is in, she exerts dedication, but the result looks effortlessly masterful. While she is certainly not my favorite supporting actress of the year, she has got to be one of the best acted scenes this year. It’s her confession that makes me forget all those screenplay faults that her character had undergone. In here, she basically bares it all and simply gives the devastating truth to explain all of this. It’s a long speech to say, but Mo’Nique makes it thrilling to watch as Mary slowly loses her hold to reality to show us what’s really inside for the longest time. That scene is, for me, the best scene of the film, the one that sticks in my mind.

Gabourey Sidibe is simply wonderful as the title character. She is basically emotionally naked in this movie. I cannot see and shades of inexperience, and I love how she handles her scene of abuse. Instead of going over-the-top, she instead uses very subtle acting to make her character believable and real. Every look, every word that she says, all of it make a character.

Even if she repeatedly undergoes severe drama, she never lets her guard down and, instead, makes a three-dimensional character in those scene. Maybe that’s why the movie had those distracting fantasy scenes. It’s a showcase of the range that Sidibe has. She definitely does not give a one-note performance with the drama alone, but those fantasy scenes were a bit help to create Precious as a natural human being, and not just a victim.

She’s a tough person to start and an unpredictable person. When she’s agitated, she fights back. All of this just makes her character more interesting because in all of the characterizations that she does and establishes in the first parts of the movie – that face that always suggest loneliness mixed with aggressiveness, that slow walk that she does, those words that she almost eats up – these make Precious a person we would want to know more. And thanks to her, she was able to do that.

I could easily say that this is one of the most powerful movies of 2009, emotionally. This is a grim, but definitely inspiring film to witness, but the film also took missteps that annoyed me. It’s an astonishing, but definitely flawed film.

For this, the movie gets:

4

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

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4 thoughts on “Best Picture Profile: Precious

  1. I disagree here, I felt the movie was near-perfect, the fantasy scenes might get a bit too much, but they are effective in some ways but I think they should have just cut them.

    Anyway, Gabby and Monique are amazing here.

    Like

    • For its emotional power, I think it is near-perfect. But on how it was made is an another story. The direction just took many freedoms for the story, distracting the flow of it. Anyway, I still love it.

      Like

  2. Strong performances, and although the plot is very unoriginal in my opinion it still is fairly well written. The fantasy scenes and the direction at times though are thought were flawed.

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