Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ticket Stubs: Precious

After talking to a various number of people, I have concluded that Precious has become one of the most intimidating films of the year. A few years ago I think more people would have embraced the story of an overweight black girl who is pregnant for the second time by her own father. Back in 2007, three of the most popular films by critics and audiences were No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Atonement. That’s right, the stories about an unstoppable killer, an obsessive hateful oil tycoon, and a World War II love tragedy were amongst the most beloved. Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the war, maybe it’s Jon and Kate and their infamous 8, but it seems that escapism is on the rise.

But allow me to be blunt: you should see this movie. Precious introduces a unique character and a world where it’s impossible to determine how it will ultimately treat her. Precious is not doing well in school, but at least it is a break from her life at home. Her mother verbally and occasionally physically abuses her. The principal of the public school gives Precious the opportunity to attend a special school to help students get their GED.

Instead of isolating Precious, this school gives her the chance to relate more to people of her own age and to the understanding teacher. Aside from the good fortune of her principal, this new life is not just handed to her. She could have easily decided to not open up to her teacher or made the effort to learn how to read and write. Perhaps the most irritating cliché of “inspirational” movies is their insistence on showing how “strong” their characters are. (“Quotation marks” are “fun”.) There are a million instances when Precious could have given up and accepted her current position. Even when things actually get worse for her—and they do—she continues to push forward and try to have a better life.

This is a universal concept. Too many people settle or compromise instead of hoping for happiness. Jefferson was right; it is a pursuit. That is the way the director, Lee Daniels, presents Precious’s story. All you see is her brutal reality and her fantastical dreams. As escapism, we see Precious wanting to be a music video dancer or Hollywood starlet but she is smarter than that. Her real goals are tangible and that is why she is so sympathetic and relatable even to a skinny little white guy like me. There is a reason this movie has been racking up the critical and audience awards at places like Toronto and Sundance. It’s one not to miss.


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