Monday, November 23, 2009

Movie Review: Precious

Precious (****/****)

I'd like to think that Precious is about hope. Yes, the viewer may have to slog through nearly two hours of nearly indescribable sufferings to get there, but, in my opinion, the last note is one of elevation. Precious is an ode to the human spirit and its capacity for adaptation.
The film tells the story of Claireece 'Precious' Jones; an obese, illiterate 16-year old who is pregnant with her second child. Her school principal takes pity on her and enrolls her in an "alternative school," which focuses on bringing poor and uneducated women up to a GED level. At this school, Precious meets Ms. Rain, who encourages her self-esteem. At the other end of the spectrum in Precious's life is her mother, an abusive, angry shell of a woman played by comedienne Mo'Nique.
I need to stop the review right here. I can't go any farther without heaping loads and loads of praise on Mo'Nique. Much like she does every scene that she's in, Mo'Nique has stolen my review right from under my nose. Those most familiar with Mo'Nique from her stand-up or her roles in VH1 reality shows will most likely balk at the following statement, but it just happens to be true: Mo'Nique is going to win an Oscar for this role. And God, does she deserve it. She's incredibly believable as a terrifying woman whose anger stems from a well of injustice in her own life. Doing this well is difficult enough, but then she throws us the acting revelation that is the last scene. In it, she is given a monologue that doesn't make what she does acceptable (nothing could do that), but it does explain it and, perhaps, humanize the character, if only a little. Trust me, any humanization of this character is a near-impossible feat, and the fact that Mo'Nique pulls it off is absolutely incredible. Though I haven't seen nearly all the movies to see this year by any stretch, I'd already put my money down on this monologue for the best-acted scene of 2009.
Overall, this film is remarkably well-acted. Gabourey Sibide, in her acting debut, is spellbinding as Precious. Acting seems so natural to this girl that it must feel like breathing for her. She is effortlessly compelling and completely real. It's mind-blowing that this is the first time she's acted. The other supporting performances are also exercises in perfection: Paula Patton as Precious's teacher is wonderful as a teacher who refuses to give up on Precious, and Mariah Carey proves that she can act, as a realistic social worker who attempts to break through the pain in Precious's life.
The only (minor) detraction I can come up with concerns director Lee Daniels. There are times in the movie when you can feel him trying too hard to be a Director who earns that capitol letter. And, as such, he allows the style to preempt the substance, however briefly. Luckily for us, this fades as the film moves on. And even so, it's only a small concern. It's not nearly enough to make this any lesser of a film.
And what a film it is. It's gritty, shocking, and depressing at times, but ultimately elevating. Precious reminds the viewer that if Precious can get up every morning, hell, we all can. This is one of the year's best films.

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