Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire: *** (out of 4)
It's hard to convince yourself to go to movies that you know are going to be depressing. It's just too easy to convince yourself that this is going to be a traumatic experience, rather than just a sad one; and even when it's possible that there's art in that trauma, and that the scars of previous movies were worth it, well, it's still not easy to convince yourself that it's worth the trouble. That's what kept me out of Precious during its main theatrical run; but somehow, I overcame my worry and made it for the second, pre-Oscars run.
And guess what? It was depressing! But it wasn't quite as depressing as I was expecting, and for that I am grateful.
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (too long a title if ever I heard one, but I suppose it's not the film-maker's fault) is the story of an penniless, uneducated, obese, and most importantly habitually-abused African-American teenager living in New York City in the 1980s. Precious (her chosen name) is pregnant with her second child (both fathered by her father), living with her abusive mother, and failing out of high school. Her life is, as we are shown consistently and convincingly, hell. And it would all seem a bit over-the-top-depressing if it wasn't clearly based on a true story.
Of course, this is just where the movie starts; her life just gets worse from there. There were several moments during the film where the entire audience (rightfully) gasped in horror; and things are just worse in contemplation. Her nicely realized fantasy life just adds a counterpoint that accentuates the negative. And even as her story arc completes and the absolute worst is left behind, her situation is still horrible.
So how did I manage to come out of the movie without a need to cheer myself up through violent video games or a good flamewar? Well, it turns out that, at its heart, the movie is also the story of The System Working, at least a little bit. And while it may not have been uplifting as a whole, it was still satisfying to see Alternative Education programs serving those most in need, and social workers doing their jobs even after years of manipulation.
Basically, after a movie of seeing things go wrong, the ending showed a ray of light pointed off to the side. And that helped.
But having gotten past that potential pit of depression, was the movie any good? Well, yes. The movie was well-crafted and, most clearly, well-acted. The girl that played Precious did a spectacular job; Mariah Carey did a better job than I ever expected her to; even Lenny Kravitz held up his role. Of course Mo'Nique, playing the despicable mother, was a standout. The film portrayed its time period and location tastefully and clearly.
I still don't want to see the movie again. But it was worth seeing it the once, and if it really is nominated for some Oscars, it'll probably deserve it more than half of its competition.