Monday, November 16, 2009
Break on Through to the Other Side: Precious
Is it because I want to recapture that time in my life? Doubtful: my high school experience was far from horrific, but there's no way in hell I'd go back. Besides, I'm not one of those people who feels old at almost thirty. If anything, I feel like there's a world of stuff I still don't know, adventures I still need to embark upon.
Maybe that's my answer.
Several months ago, I read an interview with a YA author. One quote, in response to the question "why do you write for young adults?", really stuck with me. The author said something to the effect of: "adult books have a tone of 'look at what I have learned.' Young adult books, on the other hand, say 'learn with me.'"
And in Precious, that's exactly what the viewer does.
Let me say first that although I was excited to see the film, having read countless articles about its message and about its young breakout star, I was also leery of the hype. I was worried I'd be Slumdog Millionaire'd all over again. Yes, I thought last year's Best Picture Oscar winner certainly had merit and contained some amazing performances (particularly from the child and teen actors), but that film left me feeling. . . manipulated. I thought it was way hokey and overrated. Because Precious has a realistic, take-no-prisoners storyline, and centers on a young woman's struggle for a better life, I was hoping it would not Slumdog Millionaire me.
And sure, the fantasy sequences bordered on over-the-top, and the shaky camera angles bordered on overkill.
But overall . . . I learned with Precious. And so will you.
Plot: overweight, borderline illiterate teenager Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is pregnant with her second child and living with her monstrous mother (Mo'Nique) in Harlem. When Precious is thrown out of school for her pregnancy, her principal, noticing Precious' aptitude for math, suggests an alternative school. Encouraged by her even-keeled instructor (Paula Patton) and a concerned welfare officer (a stripped-down Mariah Carey), Precious begins to come to terms with her damaged upbringing and the possibilities that lie beyond it. But for every step forward, there are two steps back.
Sounds like a Lifetime Original Movie, no? Here's what sets Precious apart from those crappy Sunday afternoon B-dramas:
1. The acting. Stellar on all fronts. What each performer does right in Precious is keep it simple. Base. Raw. From Sidibe's blank yet haunted protagonist to Lenny Kravitz's no-nonsense nurse, every movement, facial expression and line delivery is straight from the gut, deeply felt, and real. Yes, I'm including Mariah Carey in this praise. Props to Mo'Nique for applying a deft touch to an utterly irredeemable character, without being cartoonish. Not an easy feat by any means, and she pulled it off with the utmost skill.
2. The brutality. Precious has a terrible, terrible life, much of which the viewer is privy to. She may go to a dream world as a survival mechanism, but not before we see the graphic abuse that necessitates such a world. Beware: several scenes in Precious had me gasping and sobbing, and I didn't cover my eyes during Inglourious Basterds. I have to give the filmmakers credit, however, for putting out there what most of us like to pretend isn't happening in our own backyard.
3. The reality. Without giving anything away, I will say that Precious doesn't tie up all its ends in an empowered, you-go-girl bow. Precious' existence will continue to be difficult, and complications will increase. As she is a mother, she has to consider the fate of her children as well. Even the best support system can't completely eradicate her struggles, or the temptation to avoid them as her mother has, by living off welfare and eating in front of the television in an apartment building frequented by crackheads. Long after the end credits roll, you will worry for Precious, and hope that she has the strength to move forward on her own. You will pray that she remembers the advice of her teacher (and one of my favorite quotes): the longest journey begins with a single step.
Throw your support behind this flick, y'all. It doesn't have the feel-good fantastical elements of Slumdog, but it's a story that needs to be told. It's flawed, but honest: one of the best examples I've ever witnessed of art imitating life.