Why can’t I bring myself to watch Precious (Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire)?

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Quaid

As any good movie reviewer (all right, I’m very loosely a reviewer…I’ll concede that), I try and watch as many of the awards nominated films as possible each year.  That can be difficult when you live in Louisville, Kentucky.  I mean, for God’s sake, we didn’t get The Road until earlier this month.

Still, whenever an over-hyped drama hits the local cinema, I’m there, ready to be wowed by the best the year has to offer.

Every year, though, it seems there is at least one movie that gets tons of buzz–but I have no interest in seeing.  They’re usually the overly-heavy period dramas, quite often having something to do with some small child who was destroyed by World War II and the Holocaust.

These movies, while well done and well acted and well written, never really succeed at engaging me.  I feel like I’ve seen them all before, usually done better and with more emotional resonance.  Still, when a star-studded and heavy movie tackles dark issues like genocide or the hells of war, the Academy (among others) feels the unflinching need to heap awards praise on it.  Especially if it’s directed by Clint Eastwood.

Which means, of course, that I have to go see it.  I feel like the kid at the table screaming “No mommy, I don’t want to eat my vegetables!”  To which my saintly Ma replies “But it’s good for you.  Open up.  Down the hatch.”

This year the movie that keeps begging to be watched is Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. Now, why don’t I want to watch this movie?  Let’s start with the title.

I know the colon’d titles are all the rage these days, but usually it’s for franchise fair.  Lord of the Rings had to brand itself before letting you know the installment’s name.  Pirates of the Caribbean had to make sure the word Pirates was in the title.  Precious, on the other hand, takes a super simple title and complicates it to ridiculous ends just to fellate the story’s writer (yes, I know it’s a woman) and let you know that the gritty street drama was based on a book.  Because, you know, that matters.

Plus the writer’s name is Sapphire.  I hate one-named people (looking at you McG).

Next up, plot.  Take a look at the synopsis: In Harlem, an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.

So it feels strikingly like Dangerous Minds and a dozen other inner-city self-betterment dramas I’ve seen in the past 15 years.  Add to that the fact that I know the plot involves incest and rape, and, well, it doesn’t exactly sound like it will be “fun” to watch.

Of course, so many movies that aren’t fun are also great.  Hell, I’m a big fan of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, and that movie is vying for the title of “most depressing film of all time.”  If a movie is going to depress me, though, it had better be 1) damn well made and 2)exploring compelling and life-changing themes.

I have no doubt that Precious delivers #1, but watching the trailer I had no sense that it does anything with #2.  The movie looks borderline exploitative as we watch a struggling lower-class girl fight just about every difficulty that can be laid out in front of her.  Maybe she overcomes at the end, maybe she doesn’t, or maybe, like real life, she will fall somewhere between the two extremes.

Regardless, I have to wonder…what am I supposed to get out of watching this?  Is the goal just to make me realize that there are people who are victims of horrible and unfortunate circumstance?  Should I realize that the strength of the human spirit can overcome all?  Or is it some other simple and cliche theme wrapped up in super-depressing, dark and gritty cinematography to masque the fact that it’s hackneyed and overdone.

Maybe the movie is a masterpiece and the problem is with the marketing.  Maybe my friends (who liked the movie) have just failed to adequately articulate why the film is worth seeing.  I know that the rule of criticism is to keep your mouth shut until you see the movie, and I totally understand that viewpoint.  But sometimes I think that argument is used to sucker people into seeing a movie they know they won’t enjoy, like, or get anything out of simply so they have the right to bitch about it later.

I have no doubt that Precious is an extremely well-done movie.  I’ve heard that Mo’Nique’s performance in amazing and heart-breaking, and I’ll probably see the movie just for that.  But I have to wonder….is there really going to be anything new with this one?  Will it actually be enjoyable to watch, or will it at least give me food for thought and explore compelling and complex (not just depressing) issues?

All signs point to no, but I guess I’ll see whenever I finally bring myself to watch the damn thing.  If I walk out of the theater feeling depressed without having gained any insight or wisdom, though, I’ll have to ask myself, “What was the point of that?”                           

Categorized | Commentary

8 Comments For This Post

  1. Colleen Says:

    I am going to have to be one of those people who raves about it and tells you to see it. NOW.

    For me, anyway, it was unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s straight-forward to the umpteenth degree, so there’s no “hidden meaning” or allegory about it. Also, Mo’Nique was amazing – but I’m still astounded that Gabourey Sidibe (a first-time actress) succeeded so much with the title role. Really, both performances (and all of the supporting ones) are incredible.

    Yeah, you’re going to walk out feeling depressed. Really fucking depressed. (And I saw it by myself as a matinee…) While it didn’t give me any answers or solutions, I think – as cheesy as it sounds – I was reminded that you can never truly judge someone because you DON’T know where they’re coming from or their circumstances. And just a film it’s worth seeing because it’s intentionally flawed, gritty, and honest. I didn’t find it “exploitative” at all. It presents a lot of hard issues of race and class that might make you uncomfortable, but it’s not exploitative.

    As far as the Oscars are concerned, it’s not gonna win shit except for (hopefully) Actress and Supporting Actress. So, yes, if I can convince you of anything – go see it for the performances.

  2. Taylor Says:

    So as a quick backdrop, I just stumbled upon this site and am already obsessed. The two things I read were the Blindside article and the Avatar review. THANK GOD I’M NOT THE ONLY PERSON WHO FEELS THIS WAY.

    So now that you’re inside my head: Precious is worth seeing. Precious is much more Mean Creek than it is Blindside. She’s not some really talented fat black girl who’s had all these obstacles put in front of her, but is just fighting for her chance (Yeah, 8 Mile, I’m talking to you). You’re not rooting for her from the get-go. There’s no, oh, life is so hard for her “woe is me” mentality to the film. The director does an impeccable job of not being biased. I could say more, but it would ruin it. The film is worth seeing. I hope you enjoy it, but don’t go in with any expectations and I think you’ll be surprised.

  3. JuanValdez Says:

    It reminds me of a cinematic snuff film. Where’s the redeeming value in watching suffering without a point? “Bent” and “Life is Beautiful” at least explored how we retain our humanity/sanity in the depths of hell.

  4. Quaid Says:

    Juan…I think you summed up my article in a much more concise and straightforward way than I could. Thanks :)

  5. Jessica Says:

    I just watched this movie, and I was searching for the answer if this movie is based on a true story. I would have like to see what becomes of Precious. I think that maybe the writers could have done a bit more with the ending. It ends only leaving you with more questions than answers. It wasn’t a great movie, wonderful acting, however a mediocre and somewhat disgusting plot. I’m not convinced that this movie was life changing. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste the hour and a half trying to decided if it’s a movie that you “just have to seen”.

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