Thursday, December 17, 2009

Precious (Movie Review)

It's Christmas break.  I'm a middle-aged orphaned only child, so there's no family to speak of.  No boyfriend either, and not enough money to fly off to Paris or Fiji for the holidays.  I can't scrape up enough for a weekend at Disney World and a night out at Parliament House.  Even Fayetteville bars and tattoo parlors are out of my price range.

So I spend the eighteen days off going to movies, my Christmas gifts to me, whatever's showing that I've been meaning to see that might still be found at local theaters.  It's less stressful than flying by air at this time of year, being "included" in somebody else's family gathering, or getting turned down by guys in a language I don't even know ... and I don't have to worry about what to do with the dog.

I may be the last person in Durham to see Precious who ever intended to see it.  I was the only person in the theater for the first show.  At the concessions stand I even overheard the box-office girl walky-talky somebody telling him that there was "one" for Precious, which meant that somebody needed to hop to and warm the projector up.

I was worried that the movie would be a downer.  It wasn't.  I was worried that the movie would be Oscar bait or Sundance Audience Award bait.  It was, but not in especially egregious ways.  The best and most accurate pre-assessment I received on the film was somebody's remark that it was "this year's Slumdog Millionaire."  But even that was off the mark for me, because, though I loved the first 45 minutes of Slumdog and caught a bit of a smile off the closing "Jai Ho" number, my sense of it was that it's more maudlin and manipulative than Precious, which I enjoyed from beginning to end.

The most fun part of Precious is trying to remember what Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey look like when they're not dressing down to look like ordinary working-class people.

The second most fun part of Precious is watching Gabourey Sidebe's mature, understated performance as the title character and letting my heart ache for her, especially towards the end as things begin to look darkest just before the dawn.  Not a dry eye in the house (neither eye was dry) when Precious at last confronts her no-account mother.

The third most fun part of Precious is figuring out how the gratuitous artsy touches (some lifted right out of Rumble Fish and City of God, other touches, less artsy, come right out of Muriel's Wedding) relate to either the story's setting or its theme.

The fourth most fun part of Precious is guessing who thought it was good marketing or good art to make the full title of the film be Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, and why.

Past those four things, the fun is basically waiting to see whether director Lee Daniels will give Barret Helms (aka Barret Isaiah Mindell) any more screen time (he does, repeatedly) and whether he'll ever make Helms take off his shirt (he, sadly, does not).

Oh, and one more thing: it's nice to imagine how different it would have been had John Waters made the movie, and what a neat concept it would have been to allow two versions of the same movie, one by Daniels, one by Waters, same script, same cast, to play side by side at theaters.

I liked the movie that was actually made.  I hope it gets lots of nominations for Oscars and whatever, but I hope something better will win them.  What I'm basically saying is I'm waiting for something to come along to knock my socks off.  Precious rolled them down to the ankles, which, all things considered, is nice enough for a mid-December afternoon at the matinee

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