Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Popcorn: Oscar Nominee--Precious

(Yes, I know the Oscars have been awarded. Yes, I know my prognostication was right. But I'm still watching the nominated movies as they come out on DVD, and posting what I thought.)

The Best Picture Nominees for 2009 were: Up, Up in the Air, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious, Inglorious Basterds, District 9, A Serious Man, An Education and The Blind Side. This is second in a series of 2009 Oscar reviews. To see my review of The Hurt Locker, go here

I really wanted to see this movie, and I have no idea why. I'd read the reviews, knew what it was about, and, to a lot of people, it probably sounded appalling. Why would anyone want to see a movie about an obese, illiterate, sexually, physically and verbally abused teen living in 1987 Harlem? 
I did. (yeah, I'm weird.) But keep in mind--The Hours, which opens with a suicide, is my favorite movie. 
I purchased the DVD yesterday and, as part of my quest to see all the Best Picture nominees for 2009, sat down to watch and review. 
The basic plot is well-known: Precious is sexually abused by her father, has one baby by him (who is raised by her maternal grandmother), and is pregnant with a second. Her mother hates her for 'stealing her man', and verbally, physically and sexually (although we don't see that) abuses her 16 year old daughter.
Precious is still in junior high, although she's 16. Her school principal suspends her for being pregnant (Precious won't tell her how she got pregnant) and suggests she enroll at Each One Teach One, a nearby alternative school, where she can prepare to take her GED. At the school, a tough but kind teacher, Miss Rain, leads Precious and her classmates into academics. 
There are a lot of hard scenes in this movie. There's horrific abuse, awful language, and frequent despair. But the toughest scene for me was watching Precious be unable to read the title of a children's book-- A Day at the Shore. She couldn't read any of it. And she was 16. I can't imagine living in a place where basic things like reading are seen as useless (her mother, Mary, sees school as a waste of time). It's heartbreaking to see her struggle so hard. 
But she does learn to read. Ms. Rain has each student keep a journal, which is turned in daily for the teacher's comments and feedback. Slowly, Precious decides she will make a better life for herself. 
After the birth of her second child, she reluctantly returns to her mother's apartment. But when Mary purposefully drops the baby and begins to abuse her daughter, Precious has had enough. She grabs the baby and escapes the apartment, eventually ending up in a half-way house, where baby Abdul is looked after while she continues her studies. 
Her mother finds her and tells her that her father is dead, and that he was HIV positive. Abdul is fine, but Precious is not. She has the virus. In the 1980s, this was a death sentence. But the movie doesn't end in despair; it ends in hope, with Precious and her two children heading to a better life. 
The cast is roundly excellent. Mo'Nique is hideously vile as Mary, and her Oscar was extremely well-deserved. Mariah Carey does a nice job in her role as a seen-it-all social worker, with the best acting coming in the denoument between Carey, Mo'Nique and Gabourney Sibidie (Precious) in the social worker's office. For the first time, we hear Mary talk about Precious' child hood and Mary's hatred of her daughter. It's chilling and terrifying. 
It is a hard movie to watch, although I didn't think it was unbearable. It is hard to believe that there are actually people like this, that are truly that vile. But there are. It's supposed to be hard to watch. 
If you have small children in your house, or even young teens, I wouldn't recommend them watching it. It is definitely a 'R' rated film, and the language, violence and overall tone are definitely not appropriate for kids or even teens. Even very sensitive adults will probably not be able to stomach the movie. But for those who can, it's a revelation of personal triumph in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. 
It wasn't as good as The Hurt Locker, in my opinion, but better than Up. Not that Up was bad, but Up was nice. That's all. It was a nice film. It was a gorgeous film. Heck, it was a Pixar film, which is almost shorthand for quality filmmaking. But it wasn't Best Picture material. Precious is. 

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