Monday, November 23, 2009

Gladys Kravitz - Movie Review - Precious


First off, a disclaimer. I’m a do-gooder liberal and a sucker for films that point out the inequities of our society. I couldn’t wait for “Precious” to be released in Sacramento, and considered driving 80 miles to the Bay Area just to watch it a few weeks ago, before it was in wide release. I was ready for a good liberal fest. But if that’s the film you’re looking for, too, you’re going to be disappointed. “Precious” isn’t about the inequities of society. “Precious” is about being human, about life, about finding joy in the smallest of victories.

What you’re reading about the film “Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” is true. It’s going to win some Oscars this year: the only question is for whom and how many. By the way, that’s the whole title, clearly a product of some fancy negotiations on the author’s agent’s part.

What you aren’t reading about the film is that it’s not only good, but it’s funny too. It is not an easy task to make physical abuse, illiteracy, hopelessness and incest into something that will not only make you laugh, but will also leave you guilt-free about your laughter. Don’t go to this film expecting a comedy, but don’t be surprised when director Lee Daniels skillfully guides the audience to laugh. Like a good comedian, he’s engineered pauses in just the right places, allowing us to relieve some of the intensity that he has just as skillfully built.
You’ve probably already heard the plot, and if you’re anything like me, you think you’ve seen a PG version of this film as an after-school special a couple of dozen times. You haven’t. Clareece Precious Jones (Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe ), goes by the name Precious, even though she clearly is not considered precious by anyone. Sidibe portrays Precious as a remarkably unattractive and overweight African-American 16 year old girl who is pregnant with her second child; both children were conceived from Precious’ father raping her. Precious’ mother (Mo’Nique) only offers Precious more abuse, and the world of taunting boys and impersonal administrators and teachers seems downright warm in comparison to Precious’ home life. Precious enters an alternative school, and the teacher (Paula Patton) helps her to see that she has value in the world, assisted by a social worker (Mariah Carey) and a nurse’s aide (Lenny Kravitz) who take interest in the slow-moving, slow-talking, wall-like blank presence that Precious presents to the world.

Daniels explores race relations, but not from the role of victim—in one scene, Carey’s social worker challenges Precious, who asks her, “You some kind of black or something?” “Tell me what color do you think I am?” responds Carey, who plays her role with a deliberate understatement that is refreshing to see (plain makeup, no unicorns, no low-cut blouses, no Nick Cannon carrying her bags in the background) In a movie that is not overtly about race, Daniels plays with our own arbitrary boundaries: when does brown become black? When does brown become white? Interestingly, Helen Mirren, who is about as white as they come, was originally cast as the social worker. Using Carey, with her own mixed racial heritage, reminds the viewers that race is rarely the sole determiner of who is safe and who is not.
The rape scenes are thankfully short, but intense. Daniels takes the audience with Precious as she disassociates herself from the myriad methods of abuse that her family and the rest of the world seem to offer her. It becomes rapidly clear that the only way that Precious can live in her world is to live outside of it, escaping into imaginative glamor and obtainable only outside of reality. She wishes to die, but “ain’t no plug to pull.” She is a ponderous mountain of a girl, all hefty rolls, barely contained within the confines of the desks or chairs in which she is forced to sit.

Mo’Nique might win an Oscar for her portrayal of Mary, Precious’ mother, and she’ll be robbed if she doesn’t at least garner a nomination for her work. There is little to like about her character, and Mo’Nique does an excellent job of showing the audience exactly how much there is to dislike. Ultimately, the only compassion we can work up for her is tempered by sheer disgust as she justifies allowing Precious’ father to continue to rape his young daughter by asking, “But who else was gonna love me? Who would make me feel good?” She portrays the tough, sad, abused and abusing Mary with a depth that sends an uneasy shock of recognition. We know this woman, we’ve seen her in grocery stores, or in the apartment next door and perhaps we did nothing to stop the abuse we saw, worrying about the consequences to our own hides.
Patton, playing a teacher named the improbable Blu Rain becomes a lifeline for Precious, presenting a quiet performance in compassion. Sapphire, who wrote the novel Push, on which the movie is based (in case you couldn’t figure it out from the long title of the film), was a teacher in an alternative school. It’s not much of a stretch to infer that Sapphire is Blu Rain, and that Rain’s role as Precious’ gentle hero is a reflection of the author’s own role as an educator in Harlem. If there’s a weakness in the film, though, it rests with Geoffrey Fletcher’s writing of Ms. Rain’s character. She is somewhat one-dimensional: Ms. Rain is so kind, so compassionate, so committed to Precious that she is too good to be true. That works for the typical Hollywood movie, and Sapphire may have made it work for the novel (I haven’t read the book), but it is the only complaint I can find about the film—I want Ms. Rain to have a flaw. Or even two.

In a time of films by and about men, though (and, except for Oprah Winfrey’s involvement, this film was directed and produced by men—Tyler Perry was the executive producer), “Precious” has only one male character with significant screen time, the nurse’s aide played by Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz does a good job with his role, showing a homey ease with Precious and her classmates. The preponderance of women in the film, though, their performances of strength, gives me hope that film companies might take note of the possibility that “women’s films” can reach across the gender divide, both artistically and in the form of box office cash.

This is Sidibe’s first movie role, and her talented portrayal of Precious provides an anchor for the rest of the cast. Looking at publicity stills of her, and watching her during her fantasy sequences in the film, she is a beautiful woman. Looking at her onscreen, she is anything but beautiful: walled off, unable to express her essence. It is her touching performance as an imprisoned victim of her family, of society, of herself, that keeps the film’s heart front and center. The audience cares about Precious, we’re rooting for her, and it’s because Sidibe’s performance is stellar in its relentless adherence to Precious’ character.

In a historically inaccurate but moving movie montage, a lone protester is shown facing down a tank in Tienanmen Square (the movie is set in 1987—the Tienanmen Square protests occurred in 1989). The symbolism is clear, though. One person, fighting a giant opponent for all. What “Precious” does, though, is present a portrait of a character who is buoyed by others in her slow, steady battle with the monolith of forces that are aligned against her. Precious will never be middle class—when Ms. Rain is in conversation, Precious says, “They talk like people on tv shows I don’t watch.” Precious fantasizes the ceiling opening while her father rapes her, giving her an escape to another world. In reality, though, it is not fantasy, but learning to read and to speak, to communicate, that ultimately allows Precious some small measure of freedom and even pleasure.

This movie is not about racism, or incest, or the black culture or whatever it is that people are telling you it’s about. “Precious” is a movie steeped in the question of how we can best free ourselves from prisons that are forced upon us, and prisons that we create for ourselves. Who will help you to free yourself? Who can you help to find their freedom? What miracles of being human are grounded in the every day acts of pushing forward, with our hands out to help someone else following behind?

42 comments:

CDAN Mod said...

damn, girl, you gave a hell of a review without any spoilers. i already have plans to see it on this saturday.

Sporky said...

Gladys I am beyond impressed. Excellent writing, so much so that I did not want to see this until I read your review - it really intrigued me to give it a chance. Brava!

*applause*

lmnop123 said...

Gladys that was an excellent review. It was very thorough and exactly what I needed to determine whether or not it was worth seeing.

Thank you.

lmnop123 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
holyrollernova said...

i actually saw 'precious' last night with my dad. i thought is was excellent. definitely had really funny moments "ex. when precious says she is going to join a support group for "insect survivors"!) but it was also heart wrenching to see the abuse. i teared up several times, and when the credits rolled i actually cried when the screen flashed "for precious girls everywhere."

this movie is so wonderful b/c it is real. there are so many 'precious' girls out there that are completely invisible. i am a teacher and loved blu rain. coming from a teacher, i can say there are real teachers out there like her. who are that good and genuine, you just dont hear about them b/c teachers very little respect and recognition in this society.

i would recommend this movie very highly. it will make you feel grateful for the things you have in your life.

CDAN Mod said...

Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe...catch her in interviews. we know how actors are typecasted, but gabby is very bubbly. she just finished doing another movie. kudos to her, and i hope she sticks around in acting venues.

holyrollernova said...

ps - also have to agree with enty, monique deserves an oscar for this role. she was terrifying! she must have had to dig really dig for this role.

MizCaramel said...

Excellent review and most excellent writing! You are talented girl!

gralismom said...

Excellent review. I was kinda on the fence about seeing this because I find things overly hyped tend to disappoint, but Gladys, you've changed my mind. Thank you.

JessieE said...

Gladys -- that was a beautifully written review! Thank you! I enjoyed every word. And now I would really like to see this movie, and maybe take my daughter...

holyrollernova said...

i want to see gladys's review - where did it go?!??!

KLM said...

I am confused about Gladys Kravitz. I thought she was a fake character... Am I missing a joke?

B626 said...

Oprah better get moving if she's going to hire Gabourey a personal trainer and nutritionist to lose all those pounds for her final show next year.
C'mon ya know it will be a ratings bonanza!

Unknown said...

Gladys-

Wow. Wonderful review. I hope you write professionaly, as this is one of the best reviews I've ever read. Kudos and look forward to your next one!

ItsJustMe said...

Wonderful review, Gladys. While I don't think I could personally handle watching Precious, from an emotional standpoint, I am glad it exists.

Lil said...

I'm with NotSoAnonMom - not sure I can emotionally handle this movie since I cry at Disney movies. I'd be a mess with something like this. However, glad you could take time away from spying on Samantha and Derwood to write the review, Gladys. Very, very good. :-)

Princess Shyness said...

Thank you. That was a beautiful review. I can't wait to see the film, now that I've read the book.

Margee said...

Wonderful, as always. I hadn't intended to see the movie, and now I'm making dates with friends. Thank you!

Babs said...

Thank you Gladys. This just reinforces my desire to see this movie. Unfortunately, I'm not willing to drive the hour and a half to do it at the moment. Hopefully all the positive buzz will speed up the distribution to small(er) markets like mine.

And, @ klm - I think "Gladys Kravitz" might not be her real name... Do you think we all go by our real names on this site?

jax said...

klm- Gladys is her screen name on CDAN. She is a longtime reader.

Excellent!

Beensie said...

Truly.Excellent.Review.Kudos!

strawberrygirl said...

I loved this movie. I saw it last Thursday. There are sad parts about it, but the ending is wonderful.

Lady J said...

Great review Gladys. I have heard many great things about the movie. I haven't seen the movie but I did read the book and would definitely recommend that people read the book as well as see the movie.

dj said...

Gladys, excellent review. i'm rather tempted to see the movie; has anyone read the book and seen the movie? if so, which should i do first?

califblondy said...

Because of the young women in my life, I bought the book and plan to see the movie if it ever shows in my area.

Gladys, thanks for the great review. Oprah and Tyler owe you. Like someone said you didn't give anything away, while writing so beautifully about the film.

Is the teacher in the film married to Robin Thicke? I guess I could look it up...

MommaBear said...

That's a great review. It makes me want to see it even more than before, but I think I'll have to wait until it's released to dvd. It's subject matter is way to difficult for me to see in a theater. I have a feeling, I'll be crying a lot.

Maja With a J said...

Great review Gladys, you are a beautiful writer.

I can't wait to see this movie - I just have to finds someone to go with. Or I may go alone. So I can ugly-cry alone in the dark *L*

I saw Gabby Sidibe on Oprah last week and I LOVE her. She has such a light, beautiful spirit and is so intelligent and talented, and she doesn't give a shit about what people think about her size. Love her.

Mango said...

I saw Gabourey Sidibe in an interview and she is very charming and bubbly. She's from Harlem (but sounds like a Valley girl!) Her father is from Africa and her mother is from the Southern US and used to be a teacher but is now a subway busker. Gladys, thanks for the review - I'll probably see the film when it's released on DVD.

GladysKravitz said...

Aw thanks everyone. But thank Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels for making a film that was so easy to review. Now back to watching Derwin as Lil said. :-)

RocketQueen said...

Great job, Gladys! Ever thought about becoming a writer? ;)

MnGddess said...

Glady - absolutely fabulous job with the review. I wish I could write like that. Did you have any education that you can point me towards?

Jasmine said...

I have never read a review more eloquent and lyrical. Wow- like most people who have left comments I too will be seeing the movie, mainly based on your review. I was scared to see this movie because frankly the previews showing Mo'nique scared the shit out of me, but I will def see it now, thanks Gladys!

Ms Cool said...

Great review. Not sure I can handle watching it but maybe we can rent it some day.

lilbitsolo said...

Damn. That was an excellent review. I already plan to see the movie, and I hope I get as much out of it as you did.

mooshki said...

Thanks, Gladys, now I want to see it even more!

lutefisk said...

Thank you Gladys--wonderful review. I don't know if I actually have it in me to watch the movie but I enjoyed every word you wrote.

Pookie said...

GK, i could read you all the live long day! thank you! *so need to see this film*

Sis said...

Thank you Gladys for the terrific review!!

chestnut-red said...

I hesitated to see the movie because I thought it would be too sad and depressing. But based on your insightful review, Gladys, I now plan to go. Thanks!

sprinkles said...

Gladys Kravitz, I don't comment very often but your review is soooooo good! I'd been thinking this looked like a pretty good movie from the previews, now I know I gotta see it!

Thank you for taking the time to do this for us.

GladysKravitz said...

Thank you again to everyone for being so positive about my review. I love to write, and it's inspiring to have people receive it well.

Mngoddess: I can't access your email off blogger. Feel free to email me at GladysKravitz916@gmail.com. I'll tell you my writing history--pretty ordinary.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts -a great review. Now I am on that boat load of people who want to see the movie even more.

Advertisements

Popular Posts from the last 30 days