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Precious, by Vern: Reviewed from the movie PRECIOUS, BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE

tn_preciousPrecious (Gabourey Sidibe) is a very overweight young black woman, afraid to talk in her junior high math class, fantasizing about being married to her teacher. She reminds me of the kid from BAD SANTA – a nice, kind of weird, troubled kid keeping to herself and holding up an emotionless face as everybody throws things at her (both literally and figuratively). So far it seems like problems we can handle. But then she gets called into the principal’s office and gets kicked out of school for being pregnant. With her second child. To her own father.

And trust me, it gets worse. This is like 5 minutes into the movie, including the opening credits.

mp_preciousThis movie (and book, I assume) is so Lars-Von-Trier-sadistic in all the torment it dumps on this poor girl (and in turn the audience) that I kind of see where crazy fuckin Armond White is coming from in his pan of it (except the part where he lists LITTLE MAN, MEET DAVE, NORBIT and THE LADYKILLERS as “excellent recent films with black themes” that were unjustly ignored. I’m sure when he finished the essay he thought, “Jesus, this is way too reasonable – better bring up NORBIT again.”) There was a point in the movie when I couldn’t help but think about how society looks down on things like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but nominate ones like this for best picture. It’s not fair to punish this movie for the racial inequities of past awards, but it bums me out that John Singleton and this guy Lee Daniels both beat Spike Lee to best director Oscar nominations. What the fuck?

Remember how white people used to always ask Spike “Where are the drugs?” in his movies, like they thought it just wasn’t a realistic portrayal of black life unless Mookie and Rosie Perez were smoking rocks during the ice cube/nipple scene? Well, this one doesn’t deal with drugs, but can it interest you in some incest? Maybe that’ll float your boat. And hey, Mo’Nique, you seem like a nice lady. You make people laugh. You stand up for the plus-sized ladies. Wait, what? You say you did a movie where you beat up your daughter and call her a bitch and will only touch your Down Syndrome grandson if it helps you cheat welfare but then you cry at the end? Well why didn’t you say so? Here, have some awards! Have all the awards! This is the best thing since Denzel broke the color barrier for corrupt LAPD cops!

Sorry, I just needed to get that off my chest. I know it’s not entirely fair. Mo’Nique is pretty good in it, and Denzel was good in his. But I don’t know, man. If a white director did this movie, with its adorably illiterate subtitled opening credits, colorfully dingy apartment, hyperstylized rape scene and – for God’s sake – its scene where Precious steals a bucket of fried chicken and eats it all by herself… I mean, wouldn’t we be justified in shaming that motherfucker out of the business?

To put it another way, if SOUL PLANE had been based on a novel and had incest in it would it not be considered a minstrel show? I heard Mo’Nique was good in that one too.

All that having been written, PRECIOUS BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE PUBLISHED BY KNOPF DOUBLEDAY PUBLISHING GROUP did win me over in the end. I wasn’t so sure about the director (who has a picture of his own face as the logo for his production company, Lee Daniels Entertainment), but I liked his characters, so he must’ve done something right. I liked Precious and I have to confess that I found it tremendously satisfying whenever she got to punch someone. I know, she learned it from being beat on and it’s not a way to solve problems, but I still laughed when she punched a girl in her class for calling her fat. Nobody else laughed, and then it was a dramatic scene where everybody’s upset because she’s fighting. So I apologize to the other people at the Saturday matinee.

The enjoyable part of this movie is that she gets into a literacy class at an alternative school. The teacher and the girls in her class end up filling the void left by her asshole family and help her to believe in herself a little more. They’re funny characters who don’t fit the stereotypes of these movies that much, and it’s sweet when they become really close. I figured this “Sapphire” must be a drag queen but it turns out she’s a poet and wrote the book based on girls she met when she was a literacy teacher herself. So she must be proud that they cast the gorgeous Paula Patton as the teacher. I know I considered forgetting how to read and trying to get into this class when I saw her.

By the way, the teacher is “Ms. Blu Rain,” which seems like one of those “only in a novel” type names, but since the author’s name is Sapphire I’m gonna go with it.

I guess everybody else knew about this, but I hadn’t heard who was in the cast. Precious’s tough caseworker Ms. Weiss reminded me a little bit of the actress who played Agnes DiPesto on MOONLIGHTING. I was trying to figure out if I’d seen her in something else. Then real late in the movie I thought, “Actually, she kind of looks like Mariah Carey. But obviously that’s not who it is.” I was genuinely surprised when I saw her name on the end credits. She’s very good in it, and not in a show offy way. You know how in her songs she did that high-pitched noodling that was kind of a fun novelty at the time I guess, but it spawned American Idol and ruined music forever? Fortunately Mariah has no acting equivalent to that. She does have a crying scene but not a hysterical Oscar clip one, it’s a trying-to-keep-a-brave-face-but-a-tear-pops-out move. I was impressed.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. I’m really not sure about the decision to show poor Sidibe eating a bucket of fried chicken. It’s like Michael Bay remaking the Eddie Murphy NUTTY PROFESSOR. I’m sure it comes from the book, but does that mean we gotta act it out and make people watch it? It wasn’t until the next day that I thought of a reason to justify it, that it could symbolize the way Precious’s shitty life forces her to fit into racist stereotypes. Or something. I guess I don’t get that one.

Precious’s life has to be real fuckin bad, because she makes this point to Ms. Weiss that it’s nice of her to care, but she really can’t handle all the horror in Precious’s life. So that’s why we have to watch this character we like go through every horrible thing imaginable besides getting drafted to Vietnam or getting locked up in Gitmo without charges. But even that part is kind of offensive, because in fact there are many selfless and heroic people in this world, including people in jobs just like Mariah’s there, who really can comprehend all that and really do put themselves out there to help people. There are people from all around the world right now digging through the rubble in Haiti looking for survivors. Those people are gonna have nightmares the rest of their lives, they still do it. It seems like kind of a “fuck you” to great people to say, “Sorry lady, thanks for trying, you didn’t know any better.”

And I mean, what is the point of all this? What does Oprah see in it? Child abuse is a huge problem, I think alot of people don’t even really notice how many other problems wouldn’t even exist without the person first having been abused when they were growing up. But what good does it do for us to watch it in this movie? I don’t think it’s supposed to be a thrill ride like the horror movies I like, so what does it mean? I figure Oprah must see it as a survivor’s tale to inspire people who are going through that themselves, but does it really work out that way?

(NON-SPECIFIC SPOILERS this paragraph) The ending I’m not sure about, but just because I don’t really know what they were going for. It seems like it’s supposed to be a happy ending, but if you think about it’s gonna be happy for about an afternoon, then things are gonna get even worse. And I guess that’s probly intentional, but if so then what’s the point of rubbing our nose in this shit if there’s not even a light at the end of the tunnel? Are you Ingmar Bergman or are you David “The Demon” DeFalco? Are you trying to uplift us or just show us the doorway to true evil because dude have you ever noticed how shit is fucked up and it’s about time the people were told the truth about it?

And speaking of showing us the evil, I’m not sure about that rape scene. I mean I’m glad they don’t show anything but it’s kind of weird how cool he decided to make it, with his stylish closeups of frying pig’s feet and all this. This is crazy but it made me think of the WWE slasher movie SEE NO EVIL and the way Gregory Dark would randomly cut to sped up shots of roaches doggystyling each other.

But Sidibe is so good, in fact the whole cast is so good. And Ms. Rain is so nice, and Precious’s classmate Joann (Xosha Roquemore) is so funny, and I started to like being in their company. In a way my reaction is similar to the one I had to JUNO. I have some misgivings about it but the humanity of the characters elevates the whole movie. That would be fucked up though if somebody thought PRECIOUS, BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE, YEAH, YOU KNOW, SAPPHIRE was “the black JUNO,” because in JUNO she gets pregnant and her parents are very supportive. In this one her dad rapes her and her mom is jealous and throws a TV at her.

Yeah, you know, I’m thinking Armond White is kind of right. For the last time ever.

.

.

p.s. Slick move with the title, guys. You name the fucking thing like they’re announcing an adapted screenplay Oscar nomination, then that’s exactly what you get. Maybe Oprah was right about The Secret. (For the record the title sequence just says PRECIOUS. The “based on the novel” shit is only in the advertising.)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, February 4th, 2010 at 4:35 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

60 Responses to “Precious, by Vern: Reviewed from the movie PRECIOUS, BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE”

  1. I can’t wait til you review The Happy Hooker Based on the novel The Happy Hooker by The Happy Hooker

  2. Idontspeakitalian

    February 4th, 2010 at 6:26 am

    maybe she likes chicken?

  3. I have stayed away from this movie. Sorry, it just feels too much like medicine–really, really unpleasant medicine. I find it funny that the production company is “Lee Daniels Entertainment” because I haven’t heard anyone say there’s anything remotely entertaining about it.

  4. Re Armond White

    Now, I haven’t seen PRECIOUS, so I don’t know how valid White’s beef with it is. I’d like to think his offense is genuine and not just another in long line of attempts at getting attention. Still, that shit about NORBIT is in no way the only ridiculous statement he makes in that review. Take for instance:

    “Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious.”

    Seriously? You’re comparing it to BIRTH OF A fucking NATION? Even if White’s anger is real, that statement exists solely as provocation, and is not criticism.

    White is the king of inappropriate comparisons. Remember when he compare Michael Bay to Jean-Luc Godard? Or when he criticized DISTRICT 9 for not being more like YOU, THE LIVING? If the man isn’t just trying to say controversial things to stand out, then he has absolutely no sense of context.

  5. Reminds me of the fourth season of the Wire. That season could be divided into two halfs: HALF 1 is where they introduce you to all these likable characters, make you deeply invested in them and their lives, get you to form strong emotional ties to their well-being, HALF 2 is when they have fucked up thing happen after fucked up thing after fucked up thing after fucked up thing after fucked up thing forming a crushing tide of despair and failure that ultimately perverts and destroys all the good intentions of the characters. I honestly thought about calling it quits after they did something with the character of Bubbles, it hurt so fucking much to watch. I had the same thought that Vern talks about up there, where I stopped and had to ask myself what the point in watching this was, it was just so assaultively depressing.

    The fifth season, with its serial killers and its body count and its occasional triumphs of the corrupt and the undeserving, is Sound of Music happy in comparison.

    And it’s the greatest television show ever.

  6. Vern,

    Please see SHADOWBOXER. Please.

    Thank you.

  7. Armond White is an Asshole, really the movie critic I might despise more than any other in America today.

    How the fuck did he become head of the NYCC?

  8. I wonder if the teacher’s name is actually “Ms. Blu-Ray” because she’s really into high-quality home theater?

  9. Brendan: At least fourth season of THE WIRE, formally speaking, tried to demonstrate how familiar adult characters like Bubbles and Omar came to inhabit their roles via the young characters, so there’s a kind of intellectual distance, albeit still pretty damn tragic. Also, you can’t help but marvel at both the writing and the acting on that show. The kids in season four in particular are so well rendered that there’s a gratitude you extend to the guys who put the show together. The panoramic scope of the show also allows for more breathing room than a more claustrophic film like PRECIOUS.

    And more than a few characters get redemptive story arcs in THE WIRE.

  10. And it has to be said: THE WIRE had some of the most hilarious lines ever put on television.

    “Look at that bow-legged mother-fucker. I made him walk like that.”

  11. Oh jeez, is this going to become another THE WIRE thread?

    Really, you guys are doing good at bullying Vern into reviewing THE WIRE by sheer blunt force persistence and badass cinema peer pressure.

  12. It has to happen, RRA. Vern will not be complete until he’s had the Omar
    Experience.

  13. The Omar Experience? Does that mean he gets to kiss him on the mouth?

  14. Dan Prestwich – If I was still a red state redneck ignorant mother fucking cracker, I would crack the joke that Vern the blue state hippie already has ridden that ride.

  15. Ha, I was going to bring up The Wire in the Seagal thread due to the black/white relations almost sounding like something out of it. I’m thinking we should pull back a bit as I think the constant barrage of insistence is gonna have the opposite affect on Vern. But still…he should review it. ¬_¬

    I find Armond White a fascinating guy and I love reading his reviews. There’s often some nugget of truth and some fairly well made/original point buried in his reviews, but they really really are buried, surrounded by terribly unclear writing; a constant use of language that sounds like he’s just flipped through “my first pretentious thesaurus”, completely ridiculous and out of context comparisons as Dan pointed out; and what has to be attention grabbing/well disguised joke comments like the stuff about Norbit being a great film about black issues; insults thrown at filmmakers and other critics because they like something he deems terrible; a sense of superiority that he also tries to deny.

  16. Speaking for myself, the Omar Experience leaned more toward Hendrix than Soderbergh, with added ass kicking. Individual results may vary.

  17. Hey guys, have you heard about this show called THE WIRE? I hear it’s really—

    Oh. You have. Never mind.

  18. I’d like to apologize for turning this into a Wire thread, I only brought it up because McWeeny brought it up in his review of this movie and the fourth season covers similar inner-city kids in trouble themes, and Vern’s comments about how depressing the movie is made me think of myself wandering my buildings hallways after having to turn off my TV after they did something to Bubbles. I really don’t want to be the guy who hijaks the talkbacks to discuss his own obsessions, so I’ll try to shut up about the show. It’s just, seeing as how much of what’s written here discusses badassery, commitments to excellence and race, it’s hard NOT to bring it up.

  19. Bravo Vern. Last House on the Left should’ve been nominated.

  20. GoodBadGroovy,

    It’s hard not to find White an interesting character, and I do take a certain pleasure in reading his work. And, you know, I’m not saying he’s never made an interesting point or offered insightful analysis. Still, the guy is just THE WORST. Not only for contrarian to the point of absurdity opinions, not only because of his deliberately controversial but inappropriate comments, but mainly because of what you mentioned: his writing is borderline incoherent half of the time. Usually I can parse together what I THINK he’s trying to say, but I have to meet him more than halfway. Here’s a nice blogpost I read a while back which points out White’s incoherence:

    http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2009/08/we-went-to-white-castle-and-we-got-thrown-out.html

  21. I actually really dug Precious. It might’ve been because Monique was so damn evil, or it might’ve been because I had just watched Dancer in the Dark, and was already a little pre-conditioned for some bleak shit.

  22. This sounds like it could be a spinoff of Steven Seagal: Lawman.

  23. I just read White’s review, never had read anything by him before. Man, you guys are right, he could use an editor.
    But at least he liked Palindromes.

  24. Vern — although White is right to some degree about the way people jump to embrace stereotypes, I think he’s missing a key difference between this and, say, oh, I don’t know BIRTH OF A NATION. Precious’s situation is almos ludicrously over-the-top awful, but the film is very much grounded in who she is, not what she is. The thing that allows it to transcend the trappings of a Bill O’Reilly fantasy is that the film looks past the trappings of what she is and into who the person is that’s trapped inside this absurd horror show. Precious, it turns out, is a kind of special kid who is dominated, but not DEFINED, by the circumstances of her life. The move with the bucket of chicken is definitely important, because part of the movie’s point is that when you’re trapped in an exaggerated stereotypical situation, you end up looking like a stereotype. But that doesn’t mean you are you — there’s a person in there underneath the things people expect with unique dreams and personality. But all most people see is the stereotype, and they’re so ready to believe it already that they simply assume they understand you.

    Is the story too much? Does it combine everything that could possibly go wrong in a way which feels like laying it on too thick? Yeah, kinda, but you gotta admit, the way the film sells it it seems pretty believable. It’s kinda like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, in that it seems like an ever-escalating series of improbably disasters visited upon people we need, and you can either accept that these particular folks are just unlucky or you can see it as a pile of shamelessly overwritten contrivences. But the one thing that both films have is believable, unique characters who try to cope with the over-the-top world they live in. That’s the difference here, and what, to me, makes PRECIOUS something vivacious and relevant. It’s not an “issue” kind of film, its just about one unique person trying to survive a horror show. In fact, I might compare it most to something like THE PIANIST, as far as its intentions. Its not the circumstances we’re left thinking about at the end, its the person they affected.

    Or at least, thats the idea. Which brings us back to White, and his marginally correct point that the things most writers seem to have walked away with ARE the circumstances of Precious’s life, rather than the character. But is it the movie’s fault people are so fixated on the most stereotypical points? Maybe it should have toned down the more outrageous aspects if they wanted to keep the focus on the person, but I don’t think its exactly fair to call it part of the problem.

  25. Vern, I think your review is right on the money. I thought it was a movie with good characters, but I found some of the choices baffling. And Mr. Subtlety, I think you bring up interesting comparisons to REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and THE PIANIST. For some reason I just found what you aptly called “a pile of shamelessly overwritten contrivences” so much more egregious in PRECIOUS than in the two other movies. Precious feels like a real character, and she’s definitely grounded in a recognizable reality, but something about the non-stop gangbang of awful that has its way with her just feels too obvious, too manipulative.

    But when I start down this line of thinking I remember how much I like DANCER IN THE DARK, and try to figure out what the difference is. And what it might boil down to is the intentions of the filmmaker. With DANCER IN THE DARK I feel like Von Trier wants the viewer to know that the whole thing is a sadistic joke told by a filmmaker aware of how structure works. The whole point is to show you how easily he can make you upset and fuck with your emotions, and he can crush you if you’re the type to get swept up in the story and expect things to work out happily in a style befitting a true Hollywood musical. With PRECIOUS it’s almost the opposite, Lee Daniels takes everything very seriously and realistically, he doesn’t want you to be in on what he’s doing, he wants you to look at her plight like you’re observing her in the wild and not in the terrarium of a manipulative filmmaker. But then he still just runs this nice girl over with an eighteen wheeler of suck without the parts that feel like clever commentary on form. If I can be a bit reductive here, it seems like Daniels is saying “life is shitty for this poor fat black girl even though she is basically good” while Von Trier is saying “look how shitty I can make life for someone who is basically good because I designed this motherfucker and thus I am God”.

    Anyway I didn’t think PRECIOUS was a bad movie at all, but I remember sitting in the theater thinking Good Grief a couple times on account of how thick the suffering got laid on. I wasn’t expecting Lee Daniels to wink at the camera at the end, but the inappropriately optimistic note it ends on just makes me think he wasn’t paying attention to the story he was telling, or that he is intentionally trying to send the audience out of the theater with the wrong idea about what just happened. You don’t finish raping the audience just to give them your number and a kiss on the forehead.

  26. Good points everybody, all around. And “marginally correct” is a good way to describe what I meant about Armond White. I definitely didn’t mean to endorse his comparison to BIRTH OF A NATION. Although given his style I’m surprised he doesn’t defend that one.

    Mr. Subtlety – Would you say that Precious vomiting up the fried chicken was her getting rid of the stereotypes and going on with her life? It did actually happen right before walking into the class room for the first time.

  27. Gwai Lo — you know, its funny how the fact that its fiction maks a huge difference. I mean, there’s nothing in there that couldn’t happen, or, sadly, hasn’t happened to someone. I have no difficulty at all believing this could be someone’s real life (hell). But, because it’s all scripted, it seems kind of unfair to just layer it on so thick. I mean, it almost makes the job too easy and ends up putting people (including me, to som extent) off a little. Sure, Lee Daniels, it COULD have happened, but the fact is it DIDN’T exactly happen, YOU made it like this the same way Lon Treirs is acknowledging he does (or, maybe the novel did. But someone made the decision to create this world, it isn’t quite an attempt to simply recreate reality).

    They should have tried to pass it off as “inspired by a true story” or something, because its hard to not see the hand of god (be he supernatural or narrative) in the way things play out. So Daniels ends up appearing in the narrative at least as much as Von Treirs does… except instead of admitting it and gloating, he tries to pretend he’s just observing. Sorry hombre, that dog don’t hut monsiegner. I think most people watching have to walk away with some sense that they’ve been played by some level of duex ex machina. Well, hopefully they do.

    Which again brings us back to Armond and his correct assertion that people, even when given a stereotypical situation is outrageous, have such an easy time accepting it (embracing it, even) that you have to feel a little uncomfortable. If you didn’t feel some slight twinge of absurdity about just how crazy the situation becomes, well… I worry about that. It probably means you’re just a little too conditioned to associate black people with various degrees of histronic misery. So I see where the guy is coming from. And even though I think REQIUEM (for a dream, not for an alien or predator) has a similar issue a its core, that film at least really IS focusing on the issue and trying to say something about addiction. I don’t know that PRECIOUS is all that interested or has much to say about the “issues” we see in it. They’re just there to fuck with its characters. Which does make it a big problem if its those issues which people walk out remembering and believing in.

    Still, I at least walked out feeling like I could believe in it enough to believe in the characters, and that left me feeling like I’d watched a petty good film. Thinking about it now I’m more annoyed than I was while watching. Which, um, maybe just confirms what Mr. White is worried about.

  28. Vern — well, maybe. I tend to think we’re meant to interpret most of this stuff literally, though. I THINK (hope?) we’re meant to kind of wince when she goes for the chicken, but also to think about the ways her situation is sort of turning her into this caricature we think we can recognize. I think its a matter of confronting us with a stereotype we can’t really ignore and then asking us to reconcile that with the complexity of the person taking on that shape. Showing how quickly someone can be reduced to a stereotype and how that changes the way we think about them. Given that, I think it’s more meta-level critque than symbolic act, and so I don’t know that the vomiting necessarily needs to be read that way. I thought of it more as an example of how nothing really offers any lasting or “real” comfort. But now that you mention it, maybe it is a kind of rejection of the comfort one might find by actually being exactly what the world expects of you. I mean, the chicken is kind of a confirmation of the ugliest kind of stereotypes that we have, and her retreat to that might suggest that she’s just giving up and resigning herself to becoming what people already expect of her. But then throwing it up suggests she doesn’t find much lasting power in that solution, either. I dunno. Its an interesting thought.

    Of course, the penultimate depiction of this dillemma (as I’m sure Armond would thoroughly disagre with) is in Raplh Ellison’s towering masterpiece of genius “Invisible Man.” And now that I’m looking, are you fucking shitting me, there’s no movie version of that?! Get off your Saphire-adapting asses, Hollywood.

  29. (Ralph. Not Raplh. Fuck.)

  30. Yup, head of nail = meet hammer. Von Trier is yelling at the top of his lungs, waving his arms frantically and wagging his penis in your face telling you that everything is fake. The whole style of the movie, the ridiculous song and dance numbers, the very idea of Bjork and Catherine Deneuve working a down-and-out gig in a factory, or the cast of Europeans as supposed Pacific Northwesterners… it’s not meant to be real for a second. The only time Daniels strays into unreality is during Precious’ fantasies, and the weird stylistic excess of the rape scene that Vern mentioned. He takes great care to establish the reality of the world. Both films try to make you feel hope for their tortured heroes, both films smash your hope to smithereens. With DANCER IN THE DARK Lars Von Trier stands there laughing at you if you fell for the gag, with PRECIOUS Lee Daniels doesn’t even seem to realize he broke your hopes at all and tells you to remain optimistic.

  31. Mr. S., given how awful both film versions of Richard Wright’s classic novel “Native Son” turned out, maybe Ellison is better left on the page.

    Although, from a technical point of view, I’d be intrigued to see what a director did with the bizarre comedic incest scene.

  32. Does anyone else find the critical/public interpretation of Mo’Nique’s monologue at the end a little weird? Granted, Mo’Nique did a very good job in this movie and blew away my preconception that she is basically just a one-note comedian, and that one note is sass. But her admission at the end did not make me feel sympathy or empathy for her AT ALL, as others report they felt. Instead it solidified my conclusion that she was just a one dimensional monster. She SPOILERS got jealous because her husband molested their infant child during sex? You literally mean to tell me that she felt sexually threatened by a baby instead of furious with this sicko and disinclined from feeling possessive jealousy over him? Despite the fact that dear old Dad is portrayed as a fire-belching demon of a man, she made the child’s life a complete hell because she was JEALOUS? I agree with Subtlety that if this true to a real life account I suppose I would have to just buy it. But in light of the problems I had with the game of emotional manipulation the movie was playing, it felt like another goddamn kick in the ovaries for Precious, that all her suffering was for such a brain-shatteringly stupid and horrible reason. But then I read reviews and hear people talking about the movie, and they seem to think that the movie had something to say about the cyclical nature of abuse. Like it explains how Mo’Nique turned out to be who she was when you see why she’s done this to Precious. The whole movie contradicts this, Precious turned out to be a saint despite her misfortune, the character we see in the movie would never do wrong by her children or have an emotional reaction as certifiably batshit as Mo’Nique being jealous of a baby. There is no rational motive for Mo’Nique’s behavior other than being a fucked up moron on a chemical level. Precious is fucked up by circumstance, not by design. Or maybe it’s supposed to be about someone overcoming their misfortune and doing good with what they have. Yet even though she thumbs her nose at her genes and her upbringing, here you go, here’s some AIDs. Those babies will have a great Mom for about six months, terrific.

  33. Wait a minute. Now I didn’t see this movie, Gwai Lo, and I probably won’t because if people call certain types of movies “horror porn” this sounds a lot like “sadness porn.”

    Does Precious actually get AIDS at the end? Because on paper–er, screen–that sounds like it elevates hopeless melodrama into self-parody… the sadness porn version of SHOOT ‘EM UP.

  34. SPOILERS FOR ANYONE WHO ISN’T M. CASEY

    M. Casey, you heard it here first, and it plays out how you would expect it to.

  35. Hahaha. Wow, that’s amazing. I guess it’s wrong but this has given me my biggest laugh of the week.

    Thanks, Gwai Lo!

  36. Gwai Lo – wow, people really said they felt sympathy for Mo’Nique at the end? I’m gonna have to read some of these reviews. I do think that’s the scene that elevates her performance above one-dimensional monster (until that scene I didn’t understand the awards she’s been winning) but no, I think the audience is meant to be with Mariah Carey’s character thinking “oh jesus, you think that’s gonna get me on your side?” It’s more pathetic than sympathetic.

  37. I don’t have specific quotes, just general impressions. Saw it at a film festival and as with most movies I see there I had a lot of conversations about it afterwards with people who saw it. But in Googling the first go-to critic that pops to mind (Ebert) I guess I found a quote that qualifies: “Mary, the mother, is perhaps not a bad woman but simply one defeated by the forces she now employs against her daughter. Mo’Nique is frighteningly convincing.” Now Ebert’s a smart cookie and he’s phrased this in a way that I don’t 100% disagree with but the whole “she’s not a bad person, abuse breeds abuse” perspective doesn’t really line up with my read of the movie. I don’t think the scene redeems her, I think it damns her. The movie isn’t exactly trying to redeem her I don’t think, but I do think it is trying to explain her and why she’s so cruel. And pitying her is one step away from sympathy. If the confession was that she had been abused herself or something that would make more sense to me (I think we’re supposed to infer that’s the case anyway), but her monologue just made me realize she was even more mentally disturbed than I originally took her for. I guess I just can’t get behind the idea that she’d react that way, although again there’s the whole truth is stranger than fiction thing. I’m sure these things and worse have happened somewhere, somehow, to some unfortunate people whose lives are as non-stop terrible as the Precious family.

  38. I’m surprised they didnt put Halle Berry or someone like that in a fat suit and asked her to play the main character. This film is such obvious oscar bait.

    Whatever.

  39. I read the final Mo’Nique monologue as a kind indictment of the patheticly few means the desperately poor have at their disposal in order to feel worthwhile and validated. Obviously, dear ol dad is a depraved monster, but fuck, if HE chooses someone else over her, how could she possibly believe she’s worthwhile. It puts her in the pathetic position of competing for affection with her child. It doesn’t make her any less of a monster but it does give us a sense of just how empty and hopeless her life is, too. Not only does she have to settle for this horrible sociopath asshole as a partner, but if he loses interest in her, she has no one at all. I’m not sure we’re exactly supposed to feel like this explains everything or make us sympathize with her… but it certainly demonstrates what a bleak situation this is for everyone. It’s not like Mo’Nique comes out ahead from this. She’s just as hopeless, if not more so. I find that particular scenario sadly believable, and one of the best comments the movie makes on the dehumanizing affects of poverty. Without a man to affirm her, she literally can’t see that she has any worth at all. And to some degree, we’re all responsible for that, because we make it pretty clear that we don’t see in worth in people in her situation.

  40. “It’s kinda like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, in that it seems like an ever-escalating series of improbably disasters visited upon people we need, and you can either accept that these particular folks are just unlucky or you can see it as a pile of shamelessly overwritten contrivences. ”

    It’s interesting you brought this up, because that’s exactly how REQUIEM struck me even though it’s spoken of with reverence among a certain contingent of the movie blog community. (What contingent, you ask? Who exactly comprises this so-called movie blog community? To which I say: shut up, I wasn’t talking to you.) By the end of the film, the cross-cutting between the various characters and their extreme misery almost had me chuckling, it was so over-the-top and unrelenting. I’d been beaten into submission by that point and I couldn’t take it as anything but a black joke. Maybe that was even Aronofsky’s intention — I’ve only seen the film once.

    Not that you necessarily stated that you agree with this assessment (do you?) and not to hijack the thread into a discussion of another film.

    Getting back to PRECIOUS, I was surprised to learn that it’s not a musical retelling of Gollum’s story. Thanks for the info, Vern.

  41. I liked THE FOUNTAIN more than REQUIEM FOR A DREAM.

    There I said it mother fuckers.

  42. Idontspeakitalian

    February 5th, 2010 at 6:56 am

    blade would have fit in with omar.

    “some muthafuckas always tryin’ to iceskate up hill”
    “I’m like a marriage counselor. Tell the man he oughta bring the bitch some flowers every once in a while. Tell the bitch she gotta suck some cock every once in a while. That sort of shit.”

  43. That would be because The Fountain is an incredible movie, while Requiem is merely a very well-made one.
    Bring on the Arronofsky love. Between The Fountain and The Wrestler, the guy’s one of my favorite working directors at the moment.

  44. RRA: You won’t get an arguement out of me. I like PI more than REQUIEM too. I’m not a fan of REQUIEM.

  45. Not to bring up Armond again, but has anyone read his review of ‘From Paris with Love’? He loved it and read an insane amount of depth into it as a statement about geo-politics (it’s odd, I’m someone who is all for the evolution of genre film criticism, it’s unfairly dismissed and so someone reading an action film in such a way should make me happy, but Armond is pretty much the worst person to be doing it), and at the end he takes a dig at ‘The Hurt Locker’. Not suprising as Armond litters his reviews with criticisms of other films, the irony this time is that upon release Armond gave ‘The Hurt Locker’ a glowing review! I know people can change there mind etc but with Armond you can’t help but think it’s all down to the fact the film has been universally praised and lauded with awards, so much that he’s ‘changed his mind’ so as not to be in line with general opinion.

  46. http://www.nypress.com/article-20865-diplomatic-sense.html

    There’s the link. Anyone interested in seeing the full extent of White’s insanity/inanity should read it. Not to spoil anything, but it’s even less coherent than usual, and he compares Luc Besson to the Dardennes brothers.

    White is the worst. Just THE WORST.

  47. Man, when you start your review with an antagonistic phrase like: “DO YOU KNOW how to read action movies or do you simply obey advertising hype?”, you’re just begging to be called a prick.

    And what a fucking annoying prose style. The guy gleefully employs idiotic phrases (“spills and thrills”, “brainiac”, “saves his ass”) that were the stuff of SIMPSONS parodies 15 years ago.

    In what world is SYRIANA an action movie? And what colour is the sky in that world?

  48. Idontspeakitalian

    February 5th, 2010 at 8:38 am

    In what world is SYRIANA an action movie? And what colour is the sky in that world?
    the colour is narfunderspants.

  49. I can accept a reviewer being a prick if I feel like they have genuine insight (i.e. Jonathan Rosenbaum), but seriously, what the fuck is White even talking about in that review? Can anyone even detect a coherent message? Apparently it’s political because, um, Travolta kills terrorists? And then for some reason its an anti-Tarantino movie, one-upping both INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and DEATH PROOF? I don’t understand what he’s talking about!

  50. Not to keep piling it on Mr. White (and I’m not usually one for criticizing critics), but can he really be taken seriously after this comparison between Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant and Crank freaking 2?

    “Herzog’s wobbly tone reflects William Finkelstein’s unstable script.This oddball vision feels awkward after Neveldine-Taylor’s extraordinary Crank 2: High Voltage, an action sequel that ramps-up the culture of over-stimulation. Its bizarre, disorienting satire of action-movie ruthlessness outpaces Herzog.”

    http://www.nypress.com/article-20617-precious-moments.html

  51. The trailer looked cheesy, with all the people pushing each other around with their minds. I don’t remember a large black girl in it though.

  52. Guys, guys! Armond isn’t meant to be taken seriously. He’s the internet’s most endlessly amusing troll. Even Ebert admitted as much. It’s brilliant parody, but it’s clearly parody.

    Frankbooth — yeah, I did have that same reaction. But the reason I think REQUIEM, despite being kind of silly, is a bit less of a miscalculation than PRECIOUS is that it’s kind of a issues movie. So driving home its point with a sledgehammer is at least driving home a point. With precious, the sledgehammer scenario seems to have made most people gloss over the fact that its (I think) actually supposed to be a character piece. REQUIEM is a fantastically crafted film, but it’s pretty shallow and laughably overwrought in terms of its narrative. FOUNTAIN is much better and more enjoyable, though still not quite a home run. PI and WRESTLER, however, are both pretty epically fantastic.

  53. Does he know he’s trolling though? Or is he some kind of idiot savant?

  54. I just can’t believe that it’s intended as parody. He has way too many normal reviews for that to be the case.

  55. Wow, I watched the whole of Precious thinking it was a true story. I really need to read the full names of films in future. The clue is in the title.

    That is quite shocking that the mother has gotten sympathy for her final scene. When she starts talking about Scorpios being tricky, that’s our first clue that she hasn’t cleaned up her act, even though she pretending things have changed. It reminded me of that ‘you can’t handle the truth’ bit from A Few Good Men more than anything. Not something that’s supposed to be sympathetic and more the villain losing control and dropping their act in public.

  56. Clarence Anson Williams III

    February 7th, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Vern, you missed the boat, dude. The character was telling the social worker that “I like you, but you can’t handle this” because that was the script’s comment on the system. See, the system isn’t made for dealing with this shit; it’s only about presenting some government funded opportunities. At least that’s how I see it. Because otherwise that dialogue (which was kind of mumbled as an after thought) is just too off-base considering how totally effective Mariah Carrey’s character was shown to be (burnt out, yeah, but she layed it on the line: “You want money, you have to talk about what’s happening at home”).

    It’s just like the scene in the flick where the director addresses the criticism of the novel (and, most likely, the movie, too) when he has a completely (ssemingly) unimportant scene play out in which the teacher asks one of the students: “What does it mean when I say that the author presents the protagonists’ story in an unrelenting fashion…?” and then the kid proceeds to make a funny analogy. The director is certainly taking a moment to flip off the novel’s critics.

    You usually seem very sensitive to racial stuff…too sensitive, in fact. Do you have a problem seeing blacks eat fried chicken? I can assure you that they do. It has no bearing on human history–or movie history for that matter. I wonder why your mind went there…but missed most of the true layered moments that the movie presented concerning the importance of “community”, nurtured imagination, and idea that the system requires participation in order to work.

    And you really, really don’t get it when it comes to the mother: at the beginning, yeah she was merely a cinematic device as “the villain”, but the point that is made at the end (and why the system “can’t handle it”) is that these are specific, individual problems that get passed on from generation to generation. It is SO fucking shallow for you to come away from that thinking that the mom was trying to sell Mariah a bill of good for foregiveness!!! What the fuck? Pull your head out of the action movies and think about WHY society has problems.

  57. Clarence – wait, what am I so shallow for not understanding? Why does society have problems that you know and I don’t? I’m trying to understand.

  58. To be fair, Clarence, if the director is savvy enough to include a scene where the teacher asks a question and the kid makes a funny analogy in order to address the criticisms of the novel, he must surely be aware of the racial stereotype that can be applied to seeing an obese black woman stealing a bucket of fried chicken (to eat for breakfast!) and running away laughing.

    Your ‘I wonder why your mind went there’ line = unfair.

  59. DID ANYBODY SEE THE TEACHER IN THE MOVIE? She wasnt some dumb ignorant nig. She was working for her money. As for the rest of the cast… PERFECT Depiction of what black people are in inner the cities and… EVERYWHERE ELSE.. SERIOUSLY. For every “successful” black person there is, there are 100000 who are sucking the life out of my tax dollars to buy there fried chicken and CRACk… I didnt and would never pay to see this movie, borrowed it… I feel like the creator of this story owes me an hour and 51 minutes of my life back. Stupid movie.

    OH,
    And for everyone saying that the only people who can relate to this movie are ghetto nigs in the projects… YOU MAKE NO SENSE… Im not BLUE and I cant FLY but I enjoyed AVATAR immensely…

    This is Sam saying “I TOLD YOU SO”

    LATER!

  60. Obi-Wan: “You don’t want to sell me e-cigarettes.”
    Cinthia: “I don’t wanna sell you e-cigarettes.”
    Obi-Wan: “You want to go home and rethink your life.”
    Cinthia: “I wanna go home and rethink my life.”

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