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.
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?”