Monday, September 21, 2009

TIFF Watch 2009 - Precious Boys

Due to some scheduling changes in my own life, I was only been able to make it to two movies at TIFF this year. And one of those movies I got to see comes out next week anyways. At least I was almost late for the movie and basically walked in right behind Clive Owen and we were right behind his entourage. It pays to be almost late! And luckily I managed to catch the free screening of Precious the People's Choice Audience Award winner for 2009, which has become a great vault towards the Oscar campaigning.

The Boys Are Back = B
Written by Allan Cubitt based on the novel by Simon Carr, Directed by Scott Hicks
Opens Sep. 25th 2009

It has all the makings of a beautiful dramatic tearjerker that should pull you into the life of one adoring husband who loses his wife to cancer and must learn to be a father not just to his young son, but the teenage son (from a previous marriage) he left behind halfway across the world. All the elements are there with some beautiful and intimate scenes that linger in the small details of human connection (or the lack thereof), and Clive Owen is more than up to the task of downplaying his rugged superheroics and relying solely on his humanity and dramatic acting chops (yes, there are moments of his cheekiness but it isn't played for irony or against Julia Roberts).

Unfortunately, the film spends too long on lingering shots of the beautiful landscape of Australia as Clive's Joe Warr learns to bond with his young son Nicholas McAnulty. Clive and McAnulty have a strong chemistry together, sadly, there isn't much actual drama and their scenes together make for a better Lifetime movie than anything.

While Joe tries to balance work and fatherhood and now running his household, he enlists the help from a friendly fellow parent (a divine but down-to-earth Emma Booth). But the memory of his perfect second wife prevents anything from really happening and the drama nicely simmers but never that's about all it ever gets to and the story trails off.

The real drama comes when Joe is reunited with his son Harry (a terrific George MacKay) from his first marriage as issues of abandonment and life choices come to full blow, but the film spends so much time getting to this point that it ends up rushing through the most interesting aspect of Joe's world.

The movie is a pleasant enough emotional journey but it never really culminates into anything earth shattering, despite a set up that is ripe for an emotional cathartic release, but the movie is a showcase for a dramatic Clive Owen who turns in a wonderful low key performance.

Precious: Based On The Novel "Push" By Sapphire = A-
Written by Geoffrey Fletcher based on the novel by Sapphire, Directed by Lee Daniels
Opens Nov. 20th 2009

For such a small and intimate film that was almost never going to be seen, there sure has been a lot of talk about Precious already, formerly known as Push before the bad Chris Evan's action film took the name first and may change Oscar history forever. Precious won big at Sundance earlier this year, then Oprah and Tyler Perry signed on as Executive Producers to help sell the film, and now it has premiered at TIFF and won the coveted People's Choice Award (formerly won by movies like Slumdog Millionaire, American Beauty, Amelie and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) which now seems to come with an automatic push towards the Oscars. So inevitably, the backlash will come, probably even faster than Slumdog Millionaire but I hope people remember that this was really just a beautifully harsh little indie film before the Oscar/Oprah juggernaut took over.

And in the end, is the film worthy of all the attention? Is Mariah Carey really going to get an Oscar nomination? Is sassy fabulous comedienne Mo'Nique going to snare an Oscar for probably portraying one of the nastiest characters ever on screen? And will audiences be able to differentiate a feel-bad movie from being a bad movie? Or will they even go to a feel-bad movie?

It's an unequivocal... maybe.

Actually, it's an unequivocal yes for Mo'Nique, who is possibly one of the nastiest, scarriest, motherf#$ken bitch put onto celluloid film and her no-holds-barred portrayal of a psychopathic unloving mother should garner her an Oscar nomination. Yet it's not just that Mo'Nique strips down and unglamourizes herself for the role, Mo'Nique throws herself fully into the role and easily switches modes when her Mary needs to hide the nastiness and easily oozes charm as a master manipulator that works the system and takes full mental control over daughter Precious.

Clareece 'Precious' Jones is an overweight 16 year old who is now pregnant for the second time by her father, is illiterate, and lives to serve her demonic controlling mother Mary. Basically, the movie is watching sh!t poured on poor Clareece over and over again and at times, knocks you over the head with it (almost like Mary tries to knock Clareece over with a television, in possibly one of the most horrifying moments that made the pin-quiet audience of 1400 at the Elgin Theatre gasp in shock).

But Clareece "Precious" is expelled from school and seeks out an alternative school where she finds solace in a teacher who actually seems to care. Gabourey Sidibe turns in an outstandingly honest and realistic portrayal of the troubled girl, never falling into hokey "performance" choices.

Lee Daniels keeps the film so gritty and documentary like, that the cinematically fantastical moments, when Precious daydreams of a better life, are wonderfully needed breaks from the bleakness of Precious' life. Mo'Nique and Precious transform themselves in these (usually hilarious) moments that the harsh cinematography and lighting back in reality becomes even the more jarring (and it also showcases Mo'Nique and Sidibe's incredible diverse performances).

Mariah Carey turns in a solid performance sans makeup as the Social worker in charge of determining Precious's Welfare cheques and while she's only in 3 scenes, she easily makes up for Glitter. An Oscar? I don't know about that, but it's nice to see Mariah Carey stripped down to her human core without the diva exterior and turn in such an emotional affected performance.

Lenny Kravitz plays nurse John who plays a small role in getting Precious' off on her own feet. Sherry Shepherd (The View) plays the jaded alternative school's secretary and again, like the other big names in the movie, strips down to a plain core and turns in another simple, realistic performance.

However, with all the talk of the other stars, I'm surprised Paula Patton has been mentioned so little. Patton plays Ms. Rain, the teacher who takes heart to Precious' situation, and her glowing beauty, both on the outside and inside, shines through as the one ray of sunshine in Precious', and the movie's, life. Without having the movie turn into another Hollywood teacher saves the day movie, Ms. Rain remains a strong character and Patton is glorious in an unshowy dramatic role.

While the original movie title Push is probably a better title of the film, or at least outlines the overall feelgood message for the film, the film is still overwhelmingly bleak and horrifying. So much so that to some (like some in my group), felt it was unbelievable (considering they tend to layer one bad thing on top of another), though sadly, I believe stories like this exist all too commonly (although the film is based on a novel that is not actually based on a real story). It can easily blur the line between a bad movie and a bad-feeling movie but hopefully people will see the truly remarkable storytelling within the dark story. Considering it won the People's Choice awards, it looks like it can possibly overcome this, though this is still going to be a hard sell no matter what.

Luckily Oprah and Tyler Perry are on board to help sell the powerful message and the incredible performances, as well as the gritty and stylistically mesmerizing direction. And I will say that while the movie documents Precious' troubled life in a cold and matter-of-fact manner, there was a moment near the end, when the final straw is revealed that I did momentarily break down and the some tears came, and by the end of the film, one needs to take a deep breathe from it all. Slightly heavy handed but Daniel's keeps the direction of the film so honest that it becomes a minor issue.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


highbrow said...

Just stopped by to click on a couple of the ads for you ;)

Michael Parsons said...

I do not know if you read the book (and if you have, I would be interested to know if they left out some of the really horrifying stuff) but Sapphire taught at a school like Each One/Teach One....I am pretty sure she heard worse stories.

Vance said...

I haven't read the book but Precious does escape to the alternative Each One/Teach One school. MORE HORRIFYING? I wonder if it can be even MORE horrifying. Ugh...

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