Tuesday, February 9, 2010
TBG Sees: Precious
Last Saturday was "date night" for me and Mrs. Bootleg, as my mom and my aunt were in town for Jalen's 6th birthday. There was a brief bit of cinematic negotiation, as the wife made an 11th hour push for Avatar. So, I encouraged her to seek out the opinion of her most trusted resource for movies – m'man Joe Reid. His eviscerating review swayed Mrs. Bootleg to my first choice -- Precious.
Befitting the film's independent status, we had to drive nearly 40 minutes in the rain down to a small cinema in San Diego's Hillcrest community. While most of San Diego County sits to the extreme right of the political and social spectrum, Hillcrest is an eclectic spread of 21st century counter-culture. Best restaurants in town, colossal bar scene and the friendliest people in the city.
I'd estimate that our theater had room for no more than 80 people. And, if that wasn't enough proof that we were at an independent cinema, Mrs. Bootleg was positively crestfallen when she learned the snack bar didn't serve nachos.
Honestly, one of the aspects of the evening that I was looking most forward to mocking was the trailers. Independent movie trailers! There were only three and they did not disappoint: a Steve Buscemi film sandwiched between two previews in subtitles. I assume this description applies to at least 60% of the collective trailers shown before indie flicks.
As for our feature presentation…
Gabourey Sidibe plays the obese, illiterate title character in 1987 Harlem. She's only 16, but her horrific home life – incest, intense physical and verbal abuse – sends Precious into sporadic daydreams akin to a real-time mechanism of repression. Mo'Nique plays her inert, yet inhumanly brutal mother.
Admittedly, I'm in no way qualified to make this pronouncement, but with apologies to Penélope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick, there aren't four better supporting actress performances than Mo'Nique's here. Quite a few of us African-Americans had been following her stand-up act 15 years before this breakthrough performance and it always seemed her comedy came from a dark place.
Wherever that place is, she parks herself right on its couch and becomes evil incarnate. The physical brutality she unleashes on her daughter is awful enough, but I especially dug the toxicity of two dialogue-free scenes: the withering stare she directs at Precious as the child is forced to eat the enormous dinner she prepared for her mom and the blank premeditation as Precious returns home after the family's welfare has been cut off.
Sidibe is equally impressive. Several months back, I read a review that lamented her lack of range in this film, but that's missing the point. Precious has had all the love and hate and sadness and happiness pulverized out of her. Her spirit isn't broken, it's been obliterated. Sidibe's character finds – and conveys – strength with the birth of her son and the film's final 30 minute definitively puts the "lack of range" complaint to rest.
Precious is a challenging exercise for the sensibilities. The incest scene – shown as a flashback, with frenetic cutaways – is appropriately grotesque. Precious' recounting the details of the birth of her first child (a daughter born with Down's syndrome) on her kitchen floor will cut your heart out.
My only critiques are relatively minor. The lesbian alternative-education teacher with the heart of gold (Paula Patton) was transparent and two-dimensional (although, I appreciated the cameo from a certain '80s sitcom actress). The very real sociological struggles that African-Americans confront with regards to education and dark-skin/light-skin are teased, but not explored (understandable, given the time constraints). And, Mariah Carey's turn as a dowdy, yet fierce social worker left a lot to be desired.
A terrific film otherwise and y'all know who me and Mrs. Bootleg will be rooting for on Oscar® night.
(One more critique: The scene where Precious absconds with a 10-piece bucket of fried chicken and outruns the fast food employee who ostensibly chases after her? Yeah.)