Geeky Cinephile Musings…
I don't pontificate, I blather.

“Precious,” based on the obviously message-laden novel Push by Sapphire

So the SAG awards are around the bend, and I’ve been getting my free DVDs (that we did not get last year, so I was THRILLED to see little square cardboard packages of delight in my mailbox start popping up about two weeks ago), one of which was a movie that I was mildly interested in, but not enough to pay to see it.

Betcha can’t guess. Oh come on.  Oh all right, I’ll tell you.  Sheesh. 

It was “Precious, etc.”  (I know, I know–it’s not a horror film.  But I do watch plenty of other films.  Really.)

This is the film garnering all the award nods, and the film for which Mo’Nique just snagged her first Golden Globe.  (P.S. Did anyone really buy that she was crying? It was so odd–she was speaking in a snot-logged, my-throat-just-can’t-take-it voice, and taking big whooping breaths like she was sobbing, basically doing everything that is crying…except actually crying.  Her eyes remained bright, white, and dry as a bucket of sand.)

I actually went into this just KNOWING it was going to be melodramatic.  And it didn’t disappoint there.  This film takes melodrama masquerading as gritty, real, drama and serves it up with fried eggs while daddy’s rapin’ baby girl.  Overall, I didn’t DISlike it, but both my husband and I walked away from this shaking our heads and going, “Seriously??!!” You see, after watching this film and seeing pretty much every horrific thing that could possibly happen under the sun happen to dear Precious (admirably acted by Gabourey Sidibe, which is a kick-ass name if I ever heard it), Paul and I both were saying, “Well, that’s got to be a true story.  Otherwise it’d be ridiculous.” 

 And such trusting souls were we, earnestly sitting down in front of Google, asking it, begging it to confirm our hopes.  And we were crushed.  There, in black and white, were the author’s words:

“She’s a composite of many young women I encountered when I worked as a literacy teacher in Harlem and the Bronx for 7 years. ”

By the way, in case you missed it in the awkward movie title, the author’s name is Sapphire (nee Ramona Lofton).

What I’m going to say next will undoubtedly be unpopular, given the gushing reviews I’ve seen about this film…


Terrible things indeed happen every day to undeserving folk.  And film is indeed a way of bringing these terrible things into the comfy homes of those who are entirely ignorant of any lives but their own.  But to inflict on one sole character EVERY possible appalling event one could experience while living in the ghetto is clumsy and unnecessary.  Why not allow the other girls in the alternative class to shoulder the burden a bit? After all, the whole inspiration behind Precious were the numerous girls Sapphire came in contact with.  Why not allow these incidents to be expressed through multiple characters, to show how prevalent these types of occurences really are? Instead, as Precious goes through one tragedy after another, you see her fellow students looking at her as if to say, “Damn. Glad that’s not me.”  Their discomfort and slight disassociation leaves the viewer with the sense that Precious is the exception, not the rule, despite Sapphire’s attempts to say otherwise. 

I’m not saying that her peers are unsympathetic and don’t appear to have their own problems (one girl mentions having two children already, and she looks all of 17), but you never get to hear their stories and find the connections.  Instead, EVERYTHING is put onto poor Precious, and the result is a relentless sledgehammer for the audience.  It’s as if there was a check-list of tragedies, and the film just rockets through them all—Molestation? Check! Incest? Check! Pregnancy at a young age? Check! First child is born mentally challenged? Check! Name the kid Mongoloid to add further insult to injury? Check! Physical abuse? Check! Second pregnancy? Check! Kicked out of school? Check! Illiterate? Check! Almost killed by parent? Check! Diagnosed with HIV? CHECK!!!!  By contrast, anytime anything good happens to Precious (e.g. her calm moments in the halfway house with her son, receiving an award for writing), it’s rushed through rather quickly, furthering the notion that we’re not here to have any fun, damn it!!! Nothing good EVER happens in Harlem, and don’t you forget it!!

 It feels preachy, over-dramatic, and deliberately relentless.  Not relentless in an effective way, a la Gaspar Noe in Irreversible, mind you.  This feels desperate and possibly a bit childish, and it essentially weakens the very real and important message that NEEDS to be sent. 

So that’s one thing.  🙂  Next is the cinematography.  For the most part, I enjoyed the way this film is lit and shot (the apartment is particularly well done–very grim, brown, and stifling, with few windows), and I loved the contrasts between Precious’s real life and her extravagant, royal blue and dazzling silver, disco fantasies.  However, one thing that bugs a bit is the choice to deliberately shake the camera during the welfare office scenes.  It’s contrived, and rather than suck you in with the supposed realism, you instead cannot concentrate on anything else, so you’re taken out of the moment.  In my case, I was desperately trying to watch Mariah Carey actually turn in a decent, understated performance, (complete with a barely there mustache!!) and instead all I could see was the ridiculous, unnatural movement of the camera.  Word to the director and DP: if you’re using a handheld, you’re going to have enough motion–there’s no need to physically shake it.  (Or maybe the cameraman was practicing on his balance ball that day.)

This film is important.  The story is important.  The acting is very well done.  But the heavy-handed melodramatics laid on you by both the director (Lee Daniels) and the authors (Sapphire and Geoffrey Fletcher) leaves you feeling worn out and ready to watch Family Guy.  Which is exactly what we did.  Unicorn chaser.  You know.

“The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to make sense.” — Tom Clancy

4 Responses to ““Precious,” based on the obviously message-laden novel Push by Sapphire”

  1. I completely agree with your analysis. Waaaay too unbelievable. Waaay too many atrocities for one character. And the fact that the story was FICTION just adds insult to over-dramatization. I lived in Harlem. I worked in the school system. Yes, these things happen, but I have NEVER run into a student who had ALL of these horrific events happen to her.

    And I too went to watch Family Guy after I saw the movie. The funny thing is that I went to see this movie on a date! Yeah, we had lots of margaritas while laughing our butts off at Quagmire after seeing this flick.

  2. Family Guy heals all wounds. 🙂 Giggadee giggadee.

  3. …after the Oscars…

    Did anyone else think that Mo’Nique’s acceptance speech was odd? So, basically, according to her…if she hadn’t have won, it would’ve been because of politics?

    I mean, I know that speeches can be off the cuff, but…

  4. Apparently I’m not alone.

Speak yer piece, friend...

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