Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Precious, or the Illiterate Dnt Knw Vwls.

Dear Sapphire,

Now technically, you aren't the filmmaker, but since you wrote the novel Precious is based on I feel that you're responsible for its content, which is why I'm writing to you and not the director.

Precious is a character piece in which we are introduced to the titular character at a critical point in her life. She is pregnant with her second child, kicked out of public school, and her mother is still the same evil bitch she always has been. In an attempt to better herself, Precious goes to an alternative school that strives to teach her how to read and write, despite her mother's insistence that learnin' won't get you nowhere. What we get is lots of mother daughter conflict, and a supposed uplifting tale of obstacles overcome. Unfortunately, as Precious' teacher puts it, "your protagonist's circumstances are unrelenting," and just as she's finally making a new life for herself, she finds out that she is HIV+.

So the "uplifting" bit is out the window. Which isn't necessarily bad, but what is the point to all this? You've created these characters and situations, which are intriguing to watch, but is your story really saying anything?

That is my problem with Precious. The acting is there, the pain runs deep throughout, but the film has little effect other than the realization that fat people have dreams too; really annoying technicolor dreams.

Precious could be read as an illustration of poverty or child abuse. It could be an inspirational struggle for improvement, a commentary on motherhood, or a tragic example of one's failure to succeed. Hell, it could be interpreted as a racist depiction of black America insisting that only whites can save blacks from themselves.

It is most of these things, yet it's none of these things. Had the events been based on a memoir and not a work of fiction, it would have nullified that complaint. If Precious was an actual girl who had really been raped by her father, had two children by seventeen, had been hated and abused by her mother, and contracted HIV after her life began to improve, the film would be fine as is. However, Precious is a character based on multiple individuals, and the problem is that you've put too many problems in one person's life for a film to possibly cover any of them sufficiently.

Precious' relationship with her mother is by far the most interesting aspect of the film, but her character never becomes more than the caricature of a welfare vulture until the last twenty minutes of the film. The third act is by far the best, which may be why the film is garnering so much praise, but I think it would be unfair of me to overlook the far inferior beginning and middle of the film which consists mostly of annoying dream sequences, the obligatory light-skinned school teacher, and black people throwing things.

And what is with all of the voice-over? I can understand either the dream sequences or the voice-over, but the inclusion of both--often simultaneously--made me grind my teeth and pray that Precious contracted AIDS (my prayers are often answered). Show us or tell us. Don't show me while telling me, it's condescending. Wait, did Tarantino direct this?

I'm sorry, Sapphire. I know you only wrote the book and that the voiceover/dream sequences weren't your fault. And don't get me wrong, I liked the movie, I just wish it had something to say, and was more than a ho-hum character piece with the occasional camera work faux pas.

So, in closing, while Precious is more original than other black-people-saved-by-white-people films like Freedom Writers or The Blind Side, due to a more unpredictable plot and unrelenting drive to destroy the dreams of poverty-stricken fat girls everywhere, it doesn't have that heart-warming glow that makes white people want to donate to charity, which is often the only reason people watch films like this.

So while I'm glad that it doesn't illicit warm, affectionate hugging, I really wish it did have something to say.

P.S. Now everyone is going to think that all blacks sit around waiting on their welfare check. That is certainly not true. What is true is that large amounts of black people don't tip delivery drivers. Write a novel about that please.

P.P.S. It's not racist if it's true.

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree with what you have to say on "Precious". This was one of the hardest films for me to watch and review simply because of the subject matter, and I asked myself several times after, what the hell was the point? I was unaware that it wasn't based on a true story, and I think that's the problem with these movies, I believe too many people get sucked into the facade of true stories lately. More and more films are removing the "based on a true story" element, which is a concern to me. I agree that there are some great performances here (Mo'Nique comes to mind), but I agree that it's not a movie I'll ever sit down and watch again just because of the subject matter alone.