Saturday, November 14, 2009

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Precious

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

I did something I hate to do with this movie, and that's that I went in with certain expectations based on reviews and hype; as a result, I spent way too much of my time trying to see how much the finished product measured up to the advance billing as opposed to evaluating on its own merit. Trying to put that aside as best I can, it was a very impressive film, but somewhat uneven for my liking, as the good parts were really good but there were stretches of flat filler far too often. Initially, the best scenes comes out in Precious' home life, whereas the stuff going on at school feels like typical "poor kid boosted up by inspirational teacher" junk that was played out in "Dangerous Minds." As the plot moves ahead, the folks behind the scenes seem to find balance as the stuff outside of Precious and her mom's apartment rises up and becomes more compelling, but there are still some off beats and awkward transitions. One thing that was certainly not overhyped were the performances of the principal actors, as both Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique were absolutely incredible. I don't know much about Sidibe's personal background, but the degree to which she inhabits Precious is beyond impressive, as nothing from the biggest emotion to the smallest mannerism feels at all manufactured; Sidibe's full commitment and transformation gives us a remarkable and unique character right down to the way she moves and speaks. I wasn't a huge fan of some of the fantasy sequences director Lee Daniels seemed keen to drop in more than I felt was needed, but Sidibe's enthusiasm made them move from irritant to guilty pleasure more than once. On the other side of the movie's main dynamic, Mo'Nique is shocking as the abusive mother, delivering a consistent intensity that she is able to manipulate beautifully and make terrifying by using her humor to lull you into a false sense of peace and then jolt you with her most heinous actions; Mo'Nique's final scene is basically what should be listed in the dictionary under "Oscar Clip" (with all due respect to Wayne Campbell). Aside from the entertaining ensemble portraying Precious' classmates, however, most of the supporting cast let me down. As the teacher out to "save" Precious, Paula Patton hams it up and overracts in a way that does her young castmates a grave disservice. Mariah Carey got a lot of praise from reviewers for her turn as a social worker, and she's not bad, but I feel like she's being lauded for a mediocre job just because the potential for disaster was high. Lenny Kravitz is fine as a male nurse, but he's in the movie for five minutes. Despite this and despite the other faults I found, there is so much to celebrate in the performances of Sidibe and Mo'Nique as well as the overall raw emotion in this movie and the shock you feel in its most intense scenes that the less-than-impressive aspects melt away until you really think about them.

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