March 29, 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

The poster is cool. The film itself definitely warrants praise and a 10 on that good old scale of "lets bring awareness to the people". 

A lot has been said about this film. And here are my two cents worth: I am finding it difficult to come to terms with the portrayal of the subject matter. It was so shocking and so in your face, with the abuse, the skank mother, the constant baby dropping, the insurmountable hurdles Precious has to navigate; somehow it was too much of a bad thing. It shocked me into an odd state of paralysis. Like, yeah, whatever.

It would seem the combined efforts of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry as executive producers and the written/directed effort by Lee Daniels pushed this thing over the edge. I had listened to several interviews on the Slate Culture Gabfest and to Lee Daniels talking to Elvis Mitchell. So, I was aware of the controversy this movie sparked. I can only welcome such discussions and heated debates. Controversy is a good thing, brings awareness and makes people use their brains.

"A common disparagement condemns the movie as "emotionally manipulative" and "superficially inspirational", Another criticism of the film – and of the book it is based on – is from the opposite end of the spectrum, and blames the film for portraying TOO bleak a situation to the point of exploitation." (source imdb comment section for Precious)

I tend to agree with the "too bleak" crowd. For me, the horribleness of Precious' existence is kind of beyond my grasp. Sure, I understand there is a hell out there. That people are so cruel it defies belief. Fathers rape their daughters. Mothers look on (and are, in my eyes, even worse for aiding and abetting.) Blame and degrade the daughter for taking their lover away. That's all the case in the four walls Precious more or less vegetates in. The movie takes flight when Precious arrives at the alternative school she goes to after being kicked out of public school for getting pregnant a second time. Its during the scenes at school, away from her mother, where we realize she wasn't vegetating but hybernating, hiding inside herself.

The cast was impressive. I especially liked the girls in Ms. Rain's class. They were open and honest. There one found some hope and laughs. Something normal. In the scenes with the girls, the dialogue was sharp and funny. But the rest; drawn out and lugubrious, cutting us loose emotionally, through the sheer overkill of awful.

I find the bleakness of Precious' situation hits home harder when she is with her friends, as opposed to witnessing her non-stop physical and psychological torture at home. It's a narrative uncertainty that can give ethical value to a story with even the most horrifying subject matter. And that's precisely the problem with the film. Inevitability is a commodity in surplus.

An interesting point that A.O. Scott picked up in his review in the New York Times, is the role of the US government in all of this:

"An unstated but self-evident moral of “Precious,” set during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and based on a book published in the year of Bill Clinton’s welfare reform, is that government can provide not only a safety net, but also, in small and consequential ways, a lifeline."

So very true. I like that. Sure, it can go the other way as I am positive there are lots of people itching to cut a large hole in that safety net. Having said that, I doubt these neanderthals would even bother going to see a movie like this.

If Precious with the big title spotlighted the merits of social workers and their jobs, I can only say: yay. It did for me. And I admire anyone who overcomes such odds and those who help them day in and day out.

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