Monday, November 16, 2009

Precious (***)

Precious. 109 mins. R. Directed by Lee Daniels. Written by Geoffrey Fletcher. Starring Mo'nique, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz, and Gabourey Sidibe.

Precious has made waves at various film festivals all year and received a host of critical kudos. Some of those are well-deserved. The acting in Precious is just phenomenal, and almost every cast member (many of them famous musicians and comedians) should be recognized come Oscar time. The movie, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, is a gritty, realistic look at a physically and emotionally abused teen girl facing illiteracy, pregnancy, AIDS, and perhaps the worst home life of all time. Things start to look up though when she gets into a private school and her professor (Paula Patton) helps her realize her true potential. The girl is played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, and she does a bang-up job, nailing every emotional note and never wavering from complete believability. Even better is Mo'Nique as her abusive mom - perhaps the worst mom of all time. Mo'Nique is a force of nature on screen and a surefire Best Supporting Actress nominee. The supporting cast is also great - even Mariah Carey (nearly unrecognizable) delivers a superb performance. Apart from the acting though, Precious is kind of a mixed bag. Yes, director Lee Daniels deserves credit for casting these actors and getting the performances he does out of them, and yes, he does take an unflinching look at Precious' turbulent home life. But Daniels takes just as many missteps - there are a number of jarring fantasy sequences that instantly take you out of the movie's hard-knock spell and render the movie cutesy. I understand that without them, Precious would be a bit too grim, but heck, if you want to see what a real director can do with challenging, uncompromising material, check out Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream. Some of the editing is a bit sloppy, and the movie teeters too close to going dramatically over-the-top, but the acting always saves the day and makes this one worth seeing.

- John


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