Precious (for discussion of the movie)

There are two previous threads:

This one (which is more about the name than the movie)

and

This one(which was more about the movie but had many people who had not watched it yet)

So I hope nobody minds if I start a new one that’s for people who have seen the movie.
[In my best Simon Cowell voice]I found this film to be profoundly disturbing, horrendously depressing, amateurishly directed, derivative of The Color Purple and other films, often cliched, and

I

absolutely
LOVED it.

As much as I loathe to compliment anything that has Tyler Perry in the credits (though in fairness he did not write the story, adapt the story, appear in or otherwise tarnish the film and in fact had major misgivings about it due to language and subject matter) this is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. Not only is it good but I think it’s one of the few films that would count as ‘important’.

When I first read about it- black teenager grows up with abusive horror of a mother, has two kids with her father, begins a voyage of self discovery- I thought what most people probably did which is “Did you like Color Purple and A Patch of Blue? Well here they are again! This time with a modern urban setting and lots more fat!” Certainly it’s not coincidental- I understand in the novel (which I haven’t read) The Color Purple is even referenced as a book and a movie- but this is ultimately no closer to that than Saving Private Ryan is to The Longest Day even though both are very good movies about D-Day, or than The New World (a very under rated and underseen film imo) is to Dances With Wolves even though both are about white guys mingling with/learning respect for natives. It’s ultimately it’s own thing.

Often when a movie stars an actor like Gabourey Sidibe- one who is so far outside the bounds of conventional beauty or traditional leading lady- the praise is more for the novelty than the talent. Not so with Gabourey- she is phenomenal. I completely believed her character and thought I’ve rarely seen a more perfect case of actress and role seeming to have been [no snarkiness intended] specifically grown for each other ala one of the Navi units in Avatar. I haven’t seen The Blind Side but it must have 20 times the script and Sandra Bullock 4 times the talent I gathered from the trailer and her other work if she deservedly won out over Sidibe.

Mo’Nique I thought was capable- good even- but not great. UNTIL- that final scene with the social worker, Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey- who I did not recognize incidentally) when she discusses the first time her husband raped Precious and I thought “God damn! How many actresses have had long successful careers and never so nailed a scene? Or made you feel such revulsion, hatred… and sympathy… in one short scene?”

And to me, her mother was a sympathetic character. This doesn’t mean that I found her remotely likeable or that I don’t think she should be held accountable for her actions or even that she should be free, but Mo’Nique found the humanity in her. She was mentally ill, completely beaten, wanted so desperately to be loved by a man who did horrible things to their own daughter and yet she tolerated it and lived in a hell she helped to fashion. I’m not saying “all she needed was love and meds” or that she should be allowed anywhere near her daughter and grandkids- she’s awful and malignant- but that she’s a person, not a stereotype and not just some sociopathic monster, which makes her more horrifying.

The fact that giant warts and all it ended with some optimism and reason to be hopeful was incredible considering that they did it believably. There was no deus ex machina- Sidney Poitier getting her enrolled in a school for the blind and learning she knows he’s black or Celie suddenly inheriting a shop and finding out her pa wasn’t her pa (which always seemed the most contrived part of Color Purple to me) and it’s not like she becomes a video star, but she achieves a shot at something better.

A reason I say I think it’s an important film is that I’ve known more Precious’s probably than I have ‘kids from John Hughes movies’. That’s not to say they were all morbidly obese inner city black incest survivors, but that they were people who- to quote Tyler Perry about the core audience of his M’dea movies- “people who Hollywood doesn’t know or doesn’t care exist”, people who’ve fallen through the cracks and lived in conditions or families that would make Ferris Bueller’s testicles come out his ass and filled with people who they can’t even begin to describe to strangers, a low burner quotidian hell where beauty and happy endings are things that happen on TV to people who are nothing like them. Not to be melodramatic, but I sometimes wonder if people know just how many people like this there are, America’s Untouchable caste.

And when Hollywood does represent them half the time they get it laughably wrong. I can easily see some producers reading treatments for Precious and thinking “instead of morbidly obese black incest victim, let’s make her slightly plump Hispanic kid with a speech impediment- played by Miley Cyrus- and she falls in love with her speech therapist Jude Law”.

On a frivolous note my biggest '80s geek moment was "OMG, that’s her… what’s her name… from Head of the Class, but I mention that just because.

Well, enough about my take. How’d you like, dislike, or otherwise perceive it?

I thought Mo’Nnique’s performance in that scene with the social worker was breathtaking. I had to back the scene up and watch it again. Mariah Carey did an admirable job, herself. She really got across what she was feeling in her expression. Gabourey Sidibe was just right in her role as Precious. I’m not sure how I feel about the movie. I think I didn’t like it overall, but I liked things about it. My teenaged daughters felt the same way. I think they wanted a different ending. Having Precious overcome her odds only to contract HIV was not the message they were hoping for.I do think they made the best possible movie with the story they were given.

I don’t think the ending was believable at all, and this is my biggest problem with the movie. The ending is based on the fantasy notion, commonly perpetuated by the likes of Oprah, that optimism solves all problems. Just show a girl walking down the street with her head held high and all problems are solved.

In reality, Precious ends while 16-year-old Precious is still uneducated, homeless, still has no child raising experience, has two children to take care of, a history of sexual and physical abuse, and she has HIV. From those facts alone there is no reason to think that things will end well for her. How is she going to raise her two kids without any money or education at the age of 16? Especially when we know she has never had a positive parental figure in her life from which she could learn these things from.

How does the movie answer all these doubts? How does Precious overcome some of her problems in the movie? She writes in her journal. That’s all she learns to do. Is that going to help her deal with unemployment, HIV, and raising two children? I’m pretty well educated and I would struggle to deal with all those issues. It’s a nice thought that optimism and creative writing can get us through anything, but I think it’s pure bullshit. It’s the kind of nonsense that appears in books like 'The Secret" only less cleverly disguised.

I did think the movie had some highlights. I liked how Lee Daniel was willing to challenge Hollywood stereotypes and the preconceived notions of his audience. I thought the acting was incredible, especially Mo’Nique.

The story read like a textbook case of child abuse. Child abuse is exactly as ugly as the movie portrays it. It doesn’t just create one problem, it bleeds into every area of a child’s life. I never thought the problems Precious faced were a pile on for shock value, because anyone living with someone like Mary Jones would likely face all those problems.

Lee Daniels strikes me as a man who isn’t afraid of his vision. He isn’t afraid of exploring the reality of controversial themes. Yet I think he overestimates his grasp on reality.

It’s certainly not going to be easy, no mistaking that, but she at least has a support group (her teacher, the counselor, her friends). She has people who care if she lives or dies, and I’m not being Pollyanna-ish at all when I say I think that makes an enormous amount of difference.

My main problem with the movie was that I thought the teacher was too perfect and wonderful and the “homos aren’t so bad” spiel was a bit too "MESSAGE MOMENT! MESSAGE MOMENT! MESSAGE MOMENT!" blatant. I’d have made the teacher less young and full of passion than older and hard as nails but recognizes potential when she sees it (which isn’t every day) and knows how to help it along.

I couldn’t get past this.

I saw it in a block of the other best picture nominees, and it simply wasn’t good. There were a few decent scenes here and there, every so often one of the actors nailed a few of their lines, but the story, the inconsistent acting, and the really awful directing far outweighed the ok-to-good parts of the film.

I wouldn’t recommend it.

I think you are underestimating how much effort is needed to overcome her problems. Her teacher will continue to teach her how to read, but there are plenty of things Precious doesn’t know. I think it’s near impossible for a person in her position to raise two children. There is just no indication about anything in her life experience that would help her become a good mother. Everything she goes through leads me to the opposite conclusion. It would be a stretch to think that simply a 16-year-old would make a good mother. Add unemployment and a history of child abuse and it makes it next to impossible.

The children are the hardest issue, and there’s no easy answer. You can understand why she doesn’t want to put them into foster care: there are so many black children in foster care already, and this one is incestuously conceived by a teenaged mother (though I’ve no idea if that would be in the file) while the daughter is special needs and probably has other health concerns due to lack of prenatal care and being born when her mother was 12. The odds of them going to really caring families- especially “Little Mongo”- are slim, while Precious will love them.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I can’t help interjecting into this discussion about it. At 16, unemployed, uneducated and with HIV, wouldn’t putting her children into foster care be the responsible thing to do?

Intellectually yes, but Precious would know about the horror stories of foster care. Instead of kindly professionals who take in foster kids at their homes in the suburbs her children- a girl with Down Syndrome and a newborn boy- would just as likely if not more likely end up in a place where they’re just taken in for income and unloved and repeat the cycle.

Love only gets you so far.

In reality those kids would go to foster care in about a week after Precious realizes she doesn’t know the first thing about raising kids. After that Precious has a chance to overcome her educational issues and to get a somewhat decent job. At 16 she’ll probably be put in foster care, so then she’d be able to finish high school. When she ages out of foster care she’ll have no support system and she’ll be out on her own. It’s unlikely that she’ll finish college while holding down a job to support herself, but it’s possible. If she graduates college and overcomes her emotional issues, then she has a decent shot at middle class life. After that she’ll only have her obesity and HIV to worry about.

There’s also this thread, which was right when the movie first came out.

I’ll quote from my response to it: I liked it, but I had some problems with the film. First , it bothered me that it seemed to have a safari feel – “while I wait in the jeep, Jim will take our cameras deep within the lair of the inner-city black woman. Aren’t you glad you don’t live like this?”

I did think the performances were outstanding, and I liked it better the second time around, but I still think the ending was disappointing.

However, seeing Sidibie in interviews (and on The Soup!) makes me appreciate the performance all the more, because IRL she’s such a bubbly, goofy teenager.

–Cliffy