After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, “Precious” was immediately hailed as one of the American films to watch in 2009.
The film finally arrives in Bowling Green this weekend, riding a wave of critical praise and Oscar buzz that rivals any other 2009 release.
And while I can say that “Precious” is an important film with some incredible strength, I think its praise may be a little more than the film deserves.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good movie, but it doesn’t quite have enough to make it one of 2009’s elite.
Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe stars as Precious - an overweight, illiterate Harlem teen who dreams of a better life to escape a harsh reality.
Precious has had to endure years of physical and verbal abuse from a resentful mother Mary (Mo’Nique) and has been the victim of sexual abuse from her father, which resulted in two children for the 16-year-old.
When Precious enrolls in an alternative school, it opens her eyes to a new world - and the young girl becomes determined to take her life and her children’s lives in a new direction.
Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, Geoffrey Fletcher’s screenplay deals with some intense and disturbing subject matter. To their credit, Sidibe and Mo’Nique are more than capable of the challenging material, delivering two very different - but memorable - performances.
Mo’Nique is the most compelling, especially in a scene where she reveals the origins of her feelings toward Precious - one that is both heartbreaking and stomach-turning, with the kind of range that I’m not sure many actresses could pull off. It’s the kind of work that deserves the Oscar buzz it has received.
Sidibe is also very good in a role that isn’t easy to pull off, either.
When director Lee Daniels keeps his focus on that mother-daughter relationship, the film really soars. Unfortunately, Daniels adds a lot of busy work and secondary characters that for the most part don’t bring anything to the film.
Paula Patton is fine as the teacher that inspires Precious and a stripped-down Mariah Carey is surprisingly effective as a social worker, but I think their characters are part of the problem with “Precious.” I think Daniels tries too hard to make the film uplifting and inspirational - cluttering the film with dream sequences and speeches meant to deliver those messages of hope - when most of the film’s strength comes from its hurt and anguish.
I wish Daniels would have trusted Sidibe and Mo’Nique more and had not felt the need to soften the material. I’m not saying the film had to be utterly depressing, but if a movie doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, that isn’t a bad thing either. At its core, “Precious” is an intense and amazing film that I think had a message of inspiration without the need for gimmicks and overdirection.
Despite my problems with the overall tone, I believe “Precious” is still good enough to recommend, but I think in the hands of a better filmmaker this could have been so much more.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “The Hangover” (B), the summer comedy smash that understands how to be raunchy and smart - and isn’t afraid to get a laugh at any expense.
The premise for “The Hangover” is simple - three groomsmen, Phil, Stu and Alan (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) take their about-to-be wed buddy Doug (Justin Bartha) to Las Vegas for a bachelor party.
After a wild drunken night, Phil, Stu and Alan awake the next morning to find their hotel room trashed, a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom and the groom-to-be nowhere to be found.
Unable to remember what happened, the trio sets out to retrace their steps and find their missing friend.
This is a surprisingly clever and perfectly executed premise, with a nice screenplay from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (whose previous two films, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “Four Christmases,” gave no indication of what Lucas and Moore were capable of).
The script is peppered with laughs, but the mystery of what actually happened is compelling enough to hold the audience’s interest.
Of course it helps when you have a capable director like Todd Phillips, who has shown the ability to find humor in some rather risque and over-the-top situations like he did in “Old School” and “Road Trip,” but the film is also aided by an inspired cast.
Cooper is the best known of the bunch, and is charming enough, but he is overshadowed by Helms and Galifianakis, who seem to be in a contest to see who can steal the film (for the record, Galifianakis’ lovable manchild is my choice). There is also a great cameo by Mike Tyson that fortunately involves more than the ads have given away.
And then there is the final sequence during the credits, which doesn’t just neatly tie everything up, but also provides some of the biggest laughs in the film.
The film’s success, more than $277 million to date, has already spawned a sequel set for release in 2011 - which I think isn’t needed. Sure, it would be fun to see these characters again, but I think “The Hangover” is good enough that repeat viewings will suffice.
Why mess with a good thing?
“The Hangover” is rated R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material and is now available on DVD.