Precious Review (and Spoiler Alert)

It’s not an accident that it took me this long to watch Precious. In fact, I’ve been actively avoiding it.  From what I could tell about the movie, the subject matter was just far too heavy for me to deal with.

But there has been so much hype – what with Oprah and The Oscars — that I was really beginning to feel left out.  So today, possibly as a bit of a challenge to myself, I watched it.

Well, mostly.  I watched most of it but I closed my eyes or left the room for the sexual assault because I knew it would be too upsetting.  Luckily, there were actually very few of these scenes (though I’m told they were hard to watch), and when they were done, the tone lightened and the subsequent scenes had a different focus.

This strategy was nice considering I really didn’t want to watch a movie about sexual assault, but was less effective as a story telling tool.

Overall, for a film that got as much attention as Precious did for acting and story (even if people hated the story) I was surprised that more people didn’t talk abut whether the film was any good.

It wasn’t.

When we weren’t forced to watch Mary Jones (Mo’nique) hitting her daughter with frying pans, or throwing babies on the floor, the movie was rather dull.

And not just dull, but also disjointed.  There were too many scenes, too many characters, and too many changes in tone to follow.

For a movie about abhorrent parental abuse, the film felt almost light.  That’s not to say that the scenes where the abuse was taking place weren’t emotional, but the scenes surrounding the abuse were such a different tone that it made it less effective.  I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not, but as my friend Amy said recently “For such a heavy movie, it doesn’t’ really stay with you.”

I certainly wasn’t hoping for more violence, but I was hoping for a bit more plot, and a lot more character development (or maybe just fewer characters).

The girls Precious goes to school with feel like they’re meant to be more important than they are.  At times I thought I was going to get a glimpse into their lives – after all, they’re at the same alternative school as precious and have incredibly diverse backgrounds — but instead, the audience never gets the chance to fully understand these girls.

John (Lenny Kravitz), Precious’ maternity nurse, appears briefly four times.  In each appearance, John and Precious appear to have a stronger bond – but I have no idea why.

There is no explanation for their closeness.  John is a minor character with little demonstrated impact on Precious’ life other than giving her money once. His character feels unfinished and under-explained – like the screenwriter was trying to get as many details from the novel into the movie, no matter what the cost.

But despite being disjointed in many respects, one thing this movie did very well was transition into fantasy sequences during times of trauma in Precious’ life.  She would imagine herself as a film star where everyone loved her and thought she was beautiful, or as a character in an old movie where her mother’s abusive words couldn’t hurt her.  It was a beautiful way to show a coping mechanism.  Unfortunately, it was the only time that we could tell Precious had any reaction to her life.

She was clearly defeated, but there was very little emotion otherwise and that left me feeling detached from the film.

Throughout the film, Gabourey Sidibe was convincing, and at times brilliant.  But there were other times when I couldn’t connect with the character.  She was good for her first try – particularly in such a difficult role — but she wasn’t robbed of her Oscar.

She was, however, really great in final scenes of the film when Mary sits down with Precious and her welfare case worker (Mariah Carey) to try and convince Precious to move home.   The acting was phenomenal and the effect was heartbreaking.

In those moments, Sidibe is filled with emotion.  The audience was always on Precious’ side, but when she stands up to her mother, we finally understood that she would be OK.

We also get to see why Mo’nique won the Oscar.  For most of the film, she is mean and shouts a lot, but isn’t brilliant.  It isn’t until she delivers a tearful (and disgusting) speech, attempting to explain why she didn’t protect her daughter, that we really understand the monster inside Mary Jones.

Mariah Carey was surprisingly good as the welfare case worker.  She didn’t blow me away, and I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to the minor role had it been anyone other than Carey, but it was good.  She was believable and it was nice to see her as something other than “Mariah Carey.”

But it is no surprise that none of the other actors were nominated for awards.  Paula Patton, who plays the alternative school teacher, was sweet and kind – also completely generic.

I felt happy for Precious at the end of the film.  Sure, she still doesn’t have any money, can’t read, has a child with Down’s syndrome and is HI V positive, but she gets to keep her kids, she stands up for herself, and she finally gets to take control of her own life.  So in contrast to her past, it was a happy ending.

Overall, it wasn’t a terrible movie. It wasn’t a great movie either and I really wish it had been done better.  But now that the Oscar hype is over, and now that I have seen it, I have absolutely no desire to recommend it to anyone.

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