Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Scariest Film of the Year

The trailer for Precious, a drama about a fat, black schoolgirl, pregnant for the second time, living in Hell with her braindead mother, sells the film short. I had to drag myself to see it because the trailer turned me right off. It was so well-meaning and self-important and Oscar-baiting that I wanted to burn the theater down.

Check out the full title: Precious - Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Get the fuck out of here, right?! That was my first thought. Why that title? Why not go further and include a synopsis as part of the title, too? Or better, add complimentary adjectives about the flick.

Try this: The Amazing Precious - The Heart-Rending Motion Picture About the Mountainous, Knocked-Up Black Chick Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, the Black Chick Herself.

Does that do it for ya?

I'm sure you'll understand why I was driving around theaters to avoid this in its first week. Then, because I'm curious and because Paula Patton is hot, I decided to take the plunge.

It didn't help matters that Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry's names were on the credit roll. I've seen two Perry films and I never want to see another Perry flick again. As for Oprah, I didn't figure her for a producer of anything but warmed-over cinematic milk. Then again, that view is unfair to Winfrey because she did produce Jonathan Demme's powerful, dark, and confronting Beloved in '98. I guess we're so saturated with Winfrey's talkshow image that anything contrary fails to penetrate the prejudice.

Perhaps I should have been thinking of Beloved instead of The Color Purple when the Precious trailer was doing its rounds; Bastard Out of Carolina wouldn't have been far off the mark, either.

What I wasn't prepared for was a drama that has more in common with Buddy Giovinazzo than a talkshow host turned producer. I kid you not. This is one damn fine drama with a dark, dark heart and a consistency of vision. It's depiction of a black family of degenerates is uncompromising, and some of its grittier revelations floored me.

Gabby Sidibe (who is amazing) plays the illiterate teenager Precious. Though she takes some getting used to when she first appears on-screen, her spot-on portrayal of the character quickly fleshes her out (pardon the unintended pun). We learn that Precious has been impregnated by her stepfather for the second time. Her mother Mary, played by the combustible Mo'Ninique, is cool with the pregnancy, and is unsympathetic to the rape Precious endured. Abandoned by her partner, Mary spends most of her time beating Precious and destroying her self esteem with words and fists.

Suspecting foul play at home, Precious's teacher (Paula Patton) takes an interest in her well-being and encourages her to transfer to a school for socially disadvantaged slow learners. Despite her mother's protests, Precious begins a frightening journey that ends up ripping her world and the world of her mother apart.

In synopsis, I know it sounds like typical Oprah material, but, in execution, the events of this film are as graphic as any Buddy Giovinazzo film -- or an early Hughes Bros. flick like Menace II Society.

Details of Precious's abuse at the hands of her stepfather are surprising for a mainstream release. When questioned about sexual abuse by a social worker played with grim determination by Mariah Carey (who is virtually unrecognizable)...

... Mary recounts how when she would have sex with her lover, he would drag the baby Precious into bed with them and fondle her as an appetizer. She also describes how the same man would steal the milk from her nipples after Precious was born, depriving the child of sustenance. A flashback of the underaged Precious being raped is intense and disturbing, and reminded me (visually) of the dog scenes in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam (my favorite film of his). Mo'Nique's portrayal of Precious's mother is incredible and ranks right up there with great screen debuts such as Angela Bassett's bombastic bitch mother in Boys 'N' The Hood.

Director Lee Daniels sticks to the meat of the plot, keeping things visually and aurally interesting without overstylizing the details. Precious's penchant for daydreaming while being threatened or beaten is skilfully realized with a series of dream-like sequences.

Does the film finally collapse into cliche? No. I loved the ending. It's not what you expect at all.

Precious is being sold as something far less than what it is. Reviews have been positive, though, so perhaps it'll get seen.

Screw the horror remakes. This is the scariest film of the year.

A reader below (Mike Smith) has pointed out that Winfrey and Perry only came aboard the film after it was finished in support and distribution capacities respectively.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for reviewing the film. I've been curious about it for a while, but hesitant for many of the same reasons you were (i.e. Oprah and Tyler Perry's name).

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  2. You had me at Buddy Giovinazzo. I was curious about this one already, now I will seek it out.

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  3. This film is frightening and confronting film!

    The film premiered at the Sundance (world premiere) and when it screened there - there was no Perry and Winfrey attached to the film. They were not involved in the film!

    After the film won both the grand jury and audience awards they become attached - Winfrey (championing) and Perry (distributing). Precious was created without their involvement.

    A confronting, hopeful, depressing, sad, moving = brilliant film!

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  4. Phantom,
    Yours is the only review that has made me want to see this flick; thanks!
    --Ivan

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  5. BMB -- as now noted above and below, Winfrey and Perry joined the 'Precious' party after it was finished.

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    Rev -- I think you'll warm to it.

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    Ivan -- Thanks. I read no review that made me want to see it, so glad I could provide one for you.

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  6. First of all, Im a new reader on your blog, just wanted to say you got a great blog going on here! Congratulations!

    Also, thanks for reviewing this film, I dont think I would have known about it had I not read this review (though now I notice quite a few more popping up all over the place) Sounds like one of those shocking films because of how it depicts how cruel life can be.

    Ill be seeing it and reviewing it soon! Thanks again!

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  7. Mike -- thanks so much for clarifying the involvement of Winfrey and Perry. I concur with your opinion on this, of course: brilliant.

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    Film Connoisseur -- thank you; I appreciate your visiting my blog.

    Yes, it's confronting and shocking in its candor. I appreciated its moment of raw reality... and humanity.

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