(Guest post by an anonymous contributor.)
Precious – the movie that had champagne socialists all gooey in 2009 – finally found its way to my DVD drive the other night.
It was disappointing.
I like realism. There are lots of bad things going on. We should examine and talk about them. They need to be seen and discussed. Film, television, literature and the arts can do that.
Precious, however, was just too precious.
Inexorably, like all American crap, it descended into an uninteresting “Great Satan” versus “Truth, Justice and the American Way” narrative.
The title character, Precious, is a 16-year-old girl in 1987 Harlem. She is kicked out of school when she is discovered to be pregnant for the second time. To her father. For the second time. She and her mother live together on social assistance. Her mother is a nasty piece of work.
Precious, after being kicked out of school, goes to an alternative school where, shock-wheeze-gasp, she finds a teacher who sees her inner beauty and strength and refuses to give up on her.
She excels at the alternative school, learns to read, has her baby and discovers she has HIV.
Precious’s life is pretty shit.
And that, in a nutshell, seems to be the metatheme of the entire film: being Precious sucks.
Yeah, well. Lots of things suck.
Tension does arrive near the film’s conclusion when Precious’s welfare officer, played by Mariah Carey, tells Precious that her domineering violent mother wants to be reunited with her.
At this meeting, the welfare officer forces the mother to discuss the rapes that the mother’s boyfriend, Precious’s father, subjected her to.
We learn that the sexual abuse started when Precious was 3 years old, and that the mother only wants Precious back for proprietal rather than emotional reasons. Precious’s mother still harbours jealousy that her man preferred his own daughter to her.
But that’s it: the whole reveal is that the evil mother character ain’t no regular evil mother character but the Evil Mother Character From Hell! The worst! She’s sick and depraved!
Precious’s life really really really sucks! Okay? Get it?
I became convinced of my argument that this film is just more good-versus-evil American crap when I considered the scenes of escapism that played out while Precious was being raped/finding out she had HIV/being beaten up by her mother.
These lush scenes involved Precious on a red carpet signing autographs, dancing on television with handsome men, etc.
In other words, Precious’s life sucks and… she wants to be famous!
Fame, the all-American cure-all.
Did I mention Precious hates crack junkies? Can’t stand them. She hates it when they buzz her buzzer for no reason. That’s how good Precious is, okay?
Even the subplot relationship between Precious and the alternative schoolteacher was flat. We learn, when Precious briefly moves in with her, that the teacher is a lesbian. Precious seems surprised, but the plot angle adds nothing. Same goes for the male nurse who helps Precious at the hospital after she gives birth to her son. They become friends. Why? Dunno. They just do.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on this movie, but my point is that the brutal realism serves no real purpose if it fails to make the viewer think. In my experience, thinking comes with nuances, such as plot tricks, textured characters and giving more questions than answers.
The characters, plot and theme of this movie were handed over on a plate, asking nothing of the audience other than to feel the requisite liberal guilt we are all supposed to feel for living in racist, class-ridden societies.
In other words, Precious is more about answers (blame bad people) then questions (why do people live like this in the world’s wealthiest country?)
I think there could be a huge improvement if the film were turned into a comedic musical.
I’m trying to figure out how to work in a bit part for Rodney Dangerfield.